Montana Man Faces More Cruelty Charges

By Erica Larson and Pat Raia

A Montana rancher charged with 10 counts of animal cruelty in December 2010 for allegedly failing to provide food, water, and veterinary care to his herd of 450 horses was charged two additional counts March 2 after two more horses died on his property near Billings.

The herd was residing on 9,400 acres of deeded land and 30,000 acres of leased Crow Tribal land southeast of Billings, Mont., with scant forage and no water source.

On Dec. 30, veterinarian Jeff Peila, DVM, evaluated the horses at the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Department's request. At that time, the horses' condition was beginning to deteriorate, Peila said. Three weeks later the animals' condition continued to decline, Peila said.

The horses' owner, James H. Leachman, was later charged with 10 counts of negligently failing to provide veterinary care, food, or water to helpless animals. Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said the charges are connected to animals either discovered dead on the property or euthanized by law enforcement authorities. Each count--including the most recent charges--carries maximum penalties of one year in jail and $1,000 in fines, Twito said.

On Jan. 28 Leachman appeared in Yellow Stone County Justice Court and pleaded not guilty to all counts.

A trial date of June 3 has been set for the case.

In a written statement Leachman said the accusations against him were unfounded. Leachman also said he would seek the case's dismissal on grounds that authorities lack proof the horses died due to unacceptable agricultural practices "and for jurisdictional questions since the horses were largely on Indian Trust land on the Crow Indian Reservation."

In his statement Leachman also said that authorities have not provided him with proof that he owned the dead horses to which the charges are connected, nor with the causes of the animals' deaths or reasons why law enforcement authorities euthanized two horses.

Finally, in his statement Leachman said that the case is connected to a land dispute.

"This entire situation results from a dispute over the Leachman Ranch which is comprised not only of lands purchased by Stovall Holdings at a Sheriff's sale but also of leased Crow Indian lands," Leachman's statement said. "The pastures on the ranch are a combination of the various types of land. It is unfortunate that Stovall has moved without authorization and trapped my horses in unsafe areas on the ranch."

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