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