Michigan Horse Cruelty Case Stretches to Autumn 2008

Two Michigan men accused of animal cruelty and torture in a highly publicized equine welfare case are slated to appear in Jackson County Circuit Court on Sept. 30, 2008, according to a spokesperson for the Jackson County 12th District Court Criminal Division clerk's office.

The new court date will come about a year and a half after Jackson County animal control authorities seized 69 horses in March 2007 from Turn-3 Ranch in Grass Lake, Mich. It also will be more than a year after a district judge's July 2007 ruling that evidence was sufficient to charge Turn-3 Ranch manager Matthew Mercier and horse owner James Henderson with three counts of felony animal torture apiece, as well as charges of misdemeanor animal cruelty.

This postponement is the last twist in the case that was slated to go to trial on Jan. 7, according to reports published in The Jackson Citizen Patriot. Instead, Circuit Judge Chad Schmucker presided over a two-day hearing to determine whether or not he would allow witness testimony alleging that poor fencing around the Turn-3 property allowed horses to escape from the property repeatedly, roaming neighboring fields and nearby roadways.

During that hearing, Jackson County prosecutors argued that poor conditions around the property were indicative of a "state of mind" that eventually resulted in neglect and torture, according to the Citizen Patriot report.

However, Schmucker ruled not to allow testimony regarding the horses' alleged habitual escapes, but he pondered testimony from a veterinarian regarding other aspects of the horses' care.

A total of 69 horses, including Quarter Horses, Paints, and Thoroughbreds, were seized by Jackson County authorities from Turn-3 Ranch after investigators and veterinarians responding to a complaint said the horses were in poor body condition or emaciated, had no access to grain or water, and that conditions around the farm were in dangerous disrepair.

If convicted, Mercier and Henderson each face up to four years in prison on the felony animal torture charges and one year in prison on animal neglect charges, according to Mark Blumer, chief assistant prosecutor for Jackson County.

While the legal proceedings continue, Randy Treacher, acting administrator for Jackson County has been tallying the cost of the rescue. He said the rescue and its aftermath cost Jackson County $105,000 from mid-March 2007, when the seizure took place, through Dec. 4, 2007, when all the horses had been removed from the Turn-3 Ranch property. The figures do not include the cost of prosecuting the case, Treacher said.

"These figures represent personnel, overtime, feed, medical bills, electric wire, and the costs of building and repairing stalls," said Treacher.

And because Mercier and Henderson leased the property on which Turn-3 Ranch resided, Treacher said the county paid the property's owner $150 monthly until county personnel and horses were no longer present there.

In all, Jackson County paid for the maintenance of 81 horses--66 horses that remained in officials' care after the seizure and 15 foals born to mares pregnant at the time of the seizure.

According to Treacher, two of the horses were adopted out, one was euthanatized, and the rest sold during a trio of auctions, bringing in $43,000.

For more on this case see Michigan Horse Abuse Debate Rages On.

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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