Darlene Wilson, a horse breeder for over 40 years, has been convicted on three criminal counts of 2nd Degree Animal Cruelty.
The charges were based upon injuries suffered by three horses that endured squalid conditions at Wilson’s Carousel Stables in Roy. In March 2010, Pierce County Animal Control impounded these horses – just three out of a total of forty-seven Ms. Wilson owned. The seized horses were inflicted with intestinal worms, hoof disease, teeth problems and lice.
The jury delivered their verdict Wednesday afternoon to Justice Pat O’Malley in Pierce County District Court after less than 30 minutes of deliberation.
“The jurors came back very quickly,” said deputy county prosecutor Susan Mason, who argued the case against Ms. Wilson. “It tells me they were paying very close attention to the facts throughout the case.”
Ms. Mason acknowledged that her prosecution of Ms. Wilson had some extraordinary features.
“We were preparing this case of quite awhile – a month or two,” Mason said. “The county committed a lot of resources to this prosecution.”
Reflecting that commitment, Mason presented thirteen witnesses against Wilson, including three county animal control officers.
In response, Wilson vigorously proclaimed her innocence and her attorneys brought five witnesses in her behalf.
Having twenty total witnesses is extraordinary in any misdemeanor case, and at four days in length the trial lasted twice as long as an average case of this type.
“District Court trials usually last a day or two, so this was a very long,” declared Ms. Mason, “and it was very challenging logistically.”
Accommodating the expanded size of the trial necessitated several courtroom changes, and the trial shuttled twice between Justice O’Malley’s smaller courtroom and a larger criminal facility in another section of the City-County Building in downtown Tacoma.
Ms. Mason said that the controversial nature of the case demanded such size. She told the Mountain News that when she saw the complexity of the case and the volume of information she needed to process, she asked for an assistant and received a graduate law student named Scott Harlass, who very capably shouldered the legal responsibilities with her.
Darlene Wilson also had two attorneys representing her, and these external factors revealed an intriguing gravitas to the case, one that seems to have been borne by a cultural shift in the social fabric of Pierce County, the local horse industry, and certainly within the bureaucracy of country government – most notably Pierce County Animal Control (PCAC) and the Auditor’s Office, which oversees animal issues.
“It’s like the county put its foot down and declared to the world that this kind of abuse will not be tolerated any longer,” Kelli Jackson told the Mountain News after hearing of Wilson’s conviction. “Pierce County is taking a stand in maintaining the rights of animals, especially horses.”
Ms. Jackson, along with her sister Katie, alerted PCAC to the unsanitary conditions at Carousel Stables when they arrived as part of a faith-based clean-up crew to help Ms. Wilson remove the squalor.
However, many supporters of Ms. Wilson were dismayed at the conviction.
Rick Ardmore, the Bishop of the Eatonville LDS church that came to Darlene’s rescue as her health failed in early 2010 and the manure piled feet-high in the stalls, told the Mountain News that friends of Darlene had complained that “the jury didn’t know anything about ranching – they were just a bunch of city people.”
Wilson’s many supporters seemed to feel that Darlene had not done anything warranting criminal prosecution since none of the three seized horses had life-threatening health issues.
The county recognized that fact apparently, and only charged Darlene with 2nd degree animal cruelty, which reflects actions that cause “unnecessary and unjustifiable physical pain.”
Clearly, the jury agreed that such conditions existed as the horses stood for weeks in their unlit and unventilated stalls 24/7, and wallowed in mud, feces and urine-soaked straw up to three-feet deep.
The pictures of the stalls really told the story,” said Kathy Cook, a tenant who boarded several horses at Carousel Stables and used it as a base of operations in her horse-training business. “The back stalls where Darlene kept her horses were just appalling.”
Commenting further on the verdict, Ms. Cook echoed what many others voiced.
“Darlene got what she deserved,” said Cook. “People were willing to help, but Darlene didn’t want to make the lives of her horses any better.”
Also, Cook identified an over-arching concern that is widely shared by observers of the case.
“What I’m most concerned with now, is, will Darlene be allowed to keep the horses she still has?” asked Cook. “She definitely should not be allowed to keep the eleven horses she still owns, and she should not be allowed to accept any horses for board.”
The Mountain News asked deputy prosecutor Mason if she would recommend to Judge O’Malley at next week’s sentencing hearing that Darlene be prohibited from owning any horses. Mason replied that she is “strongly” considering asking for that provision, but said that the specifics of her sentencing recommendations have not been fully developed.
Darlene could face a maximum sentencing of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for each count besides relinquishing her horses. Also, Ms. Wilson may be liable for financial penalties designed to off-set costs incurred by the county in the prosecution of the case, such caring for the horses impounded.
If Ms. Wilson is forced to surrender her horses, it could be for a maximum two-year “jurisdictional period,” Mason said.
Sentencing of Darlene Wilson will take place in Judge O’Malley’s courtroom on Thursday, April 14 at 3 pm.
© 2011 The Mountain News
Hi Bruce. Great article…however Kelli and Katie’s last name is Johnson. I know you knew that…I’m sure it was a typo. ;)) Thank you for your great work.
Thanks, Terece. My apologies to the young ladies Johnson.
Along these lines, in our first story on Darlene Wilson the Mountin News incorrectly identified Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Susan Mason. Again, our apologies.
“Rick Ardmore, the Bishop of the Eatonville LDS church that came to Darlene’s rescue as her health failed in early 2010 and the manure piled feet-high in the stalls, told the Mountain News that friends of Darlene had complained that “the jury didn’t know anything about ranching – they were just a bunch of city people.””
Nope, it’s just that a lot of horse owners actually care for their horses. It is not like it’s some weird, alien concept to provide decent basic care like cleaning the stalls daily, feeding them enough hay, deworming bimonthly and trimming feet bimonthly. No one was asking her to get them massages, organic cookies and three different blankets for different types of weather. The first thing someone who is not a “city person” should understand is the necessity of picking up a manure fork. If you cannot do that, and you cannot afford to pay someone to do that, you cannot afford to own horses. Letting them stand in conditions that pigs couldn’t live in is never acceptable, and there is no excuse for it.
I think that pierce county should procsecute Ms Katy Cook for allowing her horses to stand at the squallor at Joe Bar Stables for three months in mud and feces with no shelter after she left Darlene’ ranch. It seems that when some want what others have and cannot afford to buy it. They talk trash while doing the same thing. Katy Cook had no problem with Darlene boarding Horses when she was there LOL but now she wants to limit her ability to earn a living WTH whats wrong with this picture.
Yay! The best thing that could happen would be for Darlene Wilson and others like her to lose their privilege to own these wonderful gentle creatures. They are 100% dependent upon their owners and caregivers for their survival, and it is a huge commitment to own them. If you can’t afford the time and money it takes to keep horses healthy, then you shouldn’t even think about becoming an owner.
You know Kathy Cook is saying Darlene got what she deserved well when are you going to get what you deserve? Your horses where left out in the rain and snow with no shelter. Throwing there food out there in the mud and horse manure, what do you call that? That is taking care of them? When do you let your horses out to excerise and graze? You in my opinion are not a very good horse owner either! You have been kicked outoff how many stables? This is the pot calling the kettle black in my opinion! Clean your own back yard before you trying cleaning someone else’s.
Thanks for reporting this, Bruce. You have been both honest and fair with all your articles on Darlene. I will be watching for your next article on the verdict. I do wish the best for Darlene, but I am glad that finally someone decided enough is enough.
Kathy, I take it failed to mention that she never turned her stalled horses out into an arena, let alone a pasture, she also had horses turned out to pasture with no shelter, not even a building to block the wind! Honestly, Darlene may have done wrong according to others but the horses she does have now are cared for very well, stalls cleaned, horses fed and loved. There is plenty of ventilation in each stall and the barn itself. Kathy needs to remember that double standards are unacceptable! Think before you talk Kathy!
Darlene is being punished for 1. Getting Old 2. economy failing 3. trusting people that said they would help 4 asking for help. The fact is she was trying to do the right thing! When she realized people were not doing what they said she started to give away horses, she started looking for other help, she asked people to come in and help. There was 5 clean empty stalls, why weren’t the 3 horses moved to those stalls Kathy!? Darlene was already in the prosses of giving over half the horses to a rescue at that time. Why didn’t Kathy or Animal control make sure that Darlene knew what need to be done, instead of lying to her and telling her not to worry everything is under control, just worry about getting better. It is a sad thing that when you get old and you trust people and ask for help you get punished!!
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