Appeals Court Date Set in Grass Lake Horse Abuse Case

Lawyers on both sides of a long-running and controversial Michigan horse abuse case will argue whether or not felony charges against Matt Mercier and James Henderson, Jr., should be reinstated when they appear before the Michigan Court of Appeals on Jan. 13.

In March 2007, Henderson and Mercier were each charged with three counts of felony animal torture and one count of misdemeanor animal abuse after Jackson County Animal Control authorities seized a total of 69 horses owned by Henderson from a ranch operated by Mercier. Since the seizure, one of the horses was euthanized, three were adopted out, and the remainder sold to defray the county's cost of their care, as ordered by District Court Judge Joseph Filip.

But last May, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wilson overturned Filip and ruled that the forfeiture was improper and that Henderson should be reimbursed. Then in August, Circuit Court Judge Chad Schmucker dismissed the criminal animal torture charges against both defendants on grounds that the District Court erred in finding probable cause in the case.

Shortly thereafter, prosecutors petitioned the appeals court for a hearing in the case. The appeals court will either uphold lower court findings or reverse them.

"Before the Court of Appeals, I will argue that Schmucker and Wilson were wrong, and the other side will argue that Filip was wrong," explained Jackson County Assistant Prosecutor Jerrold Schrotenboer. "Either way this will be a precedent-setting case because the Michigan animal cruelty statutes have not been interpreted all that much."

But the court of appeals might not be the case's final stop through Michigan's legal system. Depending upon the appeals case outcome, either side can appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.

"The appeals court will have its say," Schrotenboer said, "but it won't necessarily be the last say."

Henderson's attorney, Michael Dungan, was unavailable to comment on the case.

Both the American Humane Association and the Michigan Bar Association have filed briefs on the case.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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