A legal technicality prevented an expert witness from testifying in a Maryville, Tenn, courtroom on Thursday ultimately leading to Blount County General Sessions Court Judge Robert L. Headrick dismissing felony animal cruelty charges against Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Larry Wheelon.
According to Knoxnews.com, Dr. Bart Sutherland, the United States Department of Agriculture veterinarian was to testify about the condition of the horses he had examined, however he had been present in the courtroom for at least 30 minutes while another witness was testifying.
A separate reception of evidence rule is renewed daily which calls for each witness to testify separately without knowing what another witness states in order to preserve the integrity of evidence.
When defense Rob White asked Dr. Sutherland if he had been present in the courtroom while the previous witness testified, Sutherland stated yes. White then asked the judge to dismiss the charge, and the request was granted with Judge Headrick stating:
There may be evidence out there, but I can only rule on what I have before me.I have no other choice but to grant Mr. White’s motion to dismiss the charge.
Wheelon, 68 was arrested on April 22 after an extensive Humane Society of the United States investigation at the 2743 Tuckaleechee Pike, Maryville stable. Wheelon was charged with animal cruelty for “soring,” which is the use of irritating and blistering agents which are applied to the legs and hooves of Tennessee Walking Horses to achieve the exaggerated “Big Lick” appearance as the horses step high while walking.
The Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) seized 19 of the 28 horses at Wheelon Stables. The Humane Society of the United States documented the seizure and provided funding to help offset the care of the horses. Some of the horses seized could barely walk.
“Soring” is a violation of the Horse Protection Act.
Wheelon has been cited numerous times between the years of 1993 to 2012 for violation of the Horse Protection Act.
In July, a Fayette County Tennessee Walking Horse trainer, Jackie McConnell was sentenced to one year of house arrest, four years of probation, a $25,000 fine, and is banned from owning or training horses for the next 20 years. McConnell pleaded guilty to 12 of 22 charges for animal cruelty.
The HSUS continues to advocate for a federal bill to stop horse soring forever.
The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 1518), has been introduced that would amend the Horse Protection Act to end the industry’s failed system of self-policing, ban the use of devices implicated in the practice of soring, strengthen penalties, and make other reforms needed to finally end this torture.
Please call your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator and ask them to support the bill and end this egregious kind of torture to horses forever. A list of your representatives can be found by clicking here.
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