Thursday, July 10, 2008
GIBSON COUNTY, KY MAY 2007
Plea deal accepted in horse neglect case
January 25, 2008
It was with a sense of resignation and frustration that a Gibson County judge accepted a plea deal in the case of a man accused of neglecting at least 50 horses on his property.
Gibson County Superior Court Judge Earl G. Penrod's ruling Thursday means that 66-year-old Richard Stallings will spend 12 months on probation, with 120 of those days to be served on home detention.
Stallings will not be allowed to have contact with animals during his sentence.
He told Penrod that he has already moved from a property where he was staying into an Evansville home to comply with that condition.
The two-hour sentencing hearing took place in a courtroom where almost every seat was filled.
Many in attendance said they have volunteered on Stallings' former property, which has been transformed into a permanent horse rescue and rehabilitation site, owned by Indiana Horse Rescue.
When Stallings was charged in May, his property became the site of what activists call the state's largest horse seizure. The case has led many to lobby legislators for tougher laws and penalties for such neglect cases.
'Based on reformation'
"I did mention to prosecutors that this seemed lenient to see no jail time in a case with so many counts, but I remind every one here what this is all about," Penrod said. "Our system is based on reformation, not vindictive justice."
Before announcing his ruling, Penrod spent more than 10 minutes explaining the inner workings of the justice system, the role of a judge and the thought process that ultimately led him to conclude the plea agreement was the best possible outcome.
Onlookers in the courtroom showed no reaction to Penrod's ruling.
Saying his office has received a lot of public feedback about the case, Gibson County Prosecutor Robert Krieg explained why he offered the plea agreement.
Krieg said he was willing to enter all of the convictions as misdemeanors because in the seven or eight most extreme cases originally charged as Class D felonies, the charges would have been hard to prove.
"I have heard rumors that Mr. Stallings beat an animal at least one time but I have no proof, and I cannot prosecute based on a rumor," he said.
Krieg also said many people have asked he restrict Stallings from ever having horses again, but that is impossible.
"I have no authority whatsoever to do that under the law," he said. "Certainly if I could I might have, but my hands are tied."
Defense attorney Michael Cochren asked Penrod to consider that Stallings had no prior record, has endured the public's anger, forfeited ownership of his property and pleaded guilty in the case.
Stallings said little during the hearing. It took Penrod nearly 20 minutes to read through every count, to which Stallings admitted his guilt each time by whispering "Yes sir."
Anthony Caldwell, president of the Animal Protection Coalition and Indiana Horse Rescue, testified during the hearing.
He said the case has drawn attention to the need for tougher legislation and drew public awareness far beyond the county.
"A substantial amount of people voiced their frustration over the plea agreement," he said.
"I fear that has overshadowed the good achieved in this case, and think their frustrations should be directed at state laws."
Calling the case the "perfect example of a case where nothing can be done to make everyone happy," Penrod said he hopes Stallings will be rehabilitated, and that others might learn from him.
"I hope that others are deterred by the light that has focused on this case," he said. "Animal neglect is not only a social issue, it is criminal."