Michigan Horse Abuse Case Heads to Appeals Court

The long-running and controversial horse abuse case in Jackson County, Mich., took yet another turn Thursday, when the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed to hear arguments about whether the felony charges against defendants Matt Mercier and James Henderson, Jr. should be reinstated.

"The Michigan Court of Appeals has the right to agree with the lower court in dismissing the felony charges or reinstate them," said Jerrold Schrotenboer, chief appellate attorney for Jackson County. "The Appeals Court will decide what Michigan's animal torture statutes mean."

In April, Jackson County, Mich., Circuit Court Judge Chad C. Schmucker dismissed three counts of felony animal torture against the pair on grounds that prosecutors erred in finding probable cause for the animal torture charges.

"We really don't know what's going on," said Ron Fabian, attorney for Matt Mercier. "We're all frustrated by this. A lot of evidence has come to light in Matt and Jim's favor."

According to Fabian the appeals process allows prosecutors to write a formal brief detailing why the lower court's decision to dismiss the felony charges was inappropriate in this case.

"That could take two or three months," Fabian said. "Then we review it; then it gets to the court docket--which could be as late as Spring 2009."

Henderson's attorney Michael Dungan was unavailable for comment.

Mercier and Henderson were each charged with the felonies and one count of misdemeanor animal abuse in March 2007 after authorities seized a total of 69 horses owned by Henderson from a ranch operated by Mercier.

The appeal also puts next week's trial for the misdemeanor charges on hold pending the Appeal Court's decision.

"The Appeals Court can't offer an opinion on the misdemeanor charges because nobody is contesting them," Schrotenboer explained.

However, Fabian said he and Dungan decided to pursue civil cases to recoup the value of property seized in the case including Mercier's tack and other equipment, along with Henderson's horses. Most of the horses were sold at auction last fall to defray the county's cost of their care.

"The civil cases will begin before the Appeals Court opinion is handed down," Fabian said.

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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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