Carroll County Circuit Court Judge Brett Geisler agreed with the verdict handed down in May by District Court Judge Edward M. Turner III in regard to the local dog breeding operation of Lanzie Junior Horton Jr.
Horton, owner of Hortons Pups in Hillsville, had appealed Turners May 15 decision and it was heard on July 29 in Carroll County Circuit Court. After nearly seven hours of testimony, Geisler upheld Turners decision that Horton was guilty on one charge of failure to pay license tax, 25 counts of animal neglect and 14 counts of animal cruelty.
Geisler said his role was to determine the credibility of witnesses and decide the facts based on the evidence presented. He said while all four experts were credible, he felt the Commonwealths witnesses, Dr. Kathy Davieds and Dr. Heather Jenkins-Brazell, who were present during the seizure and inspection of the dogs, had more insight into the incident than defense experts Dr. Nash Williams and Dr. James Adams.
Davieds recounted her experience during the seizure of the dogs, while Jenkins testimony focused on her observations while examining the dogs. The testimonies of Williams and Adams revolved around their analysis of photographs of the dogs Jenkins had observed.
Drs Jenkins and Davieds were present during the examinations, Geisler said in handing down his decision. They could touch, feel, smell and hear what the dogs were going through. Dr. Adams said he couldnt diagnose from photographs.
Geisler also agreed with the punishment handed down by Turner. Each count of cruelty carried with it a maximum fine of $2,500 and 12 months of jail time. Turner originally imposed the $2,500 fine and suspended $2,250 in each case and 12 months of probation per offense. The 25 counts of neglect carried a maximum fine of $500 per offense, which was imposed by Turner with $450 being suspended on each, and the licensing offense carried a fine of $25. Hortons business was also limited to 250 total dogs, including breeders and puppies and he was ordered to pay restitution for the care of the 14 dogs Jenkins deemed to be in dire condition during the examination process. Horton will also have to pay court costs.
In all, Geisler handed down a total of 14 years of supervised probation by New River Community Corrections and $4,775 in fines, the same sentence given by Turner in May.
The court feels Judge Turner was lenient, Geisler said, agreeing with Turners decision.
Commonwealths Attorney Gregory G. Goad called the same three witnesses to the stand as he did in May Jenkins, Davieds and Animal Control Officer Terry Woods.
Woods and Davieds established the case for neglect by recollecting their visits to Hortons Pups during the Nov. 2007 seizure, noting the conditions of the facilities. Davieds said she observed paws sticking through the bottoms of cages and mother dogs nursing their pups while lying in feces and urine.
Jenkins testified that during the examination of the dogs, she received the ones that were identified by other veterinarians as having severe problems.
Defense attorney James Ward called Williams and Adams to testify as experts, as well as Horton.
During each experts testimony, Ward showed them photographs and medical reports of each of the 14 dogs identified by Jenkins. They gave their thoughts as to what the problem could be and compared them to what was written on the reports and whether or not those conditions could be considered to be life-threatening. Both witnesses also testified that in the time since the seizure, Hortons facilities have been clean.
When he took the stand, Horton insisted that he took good care of his dogs, giving them adequate food, water and shelter and cleaning up after them at least twice daily. During cross-examination, he acknowledged that he had more dogs than he was licensed for.
Horton said one particular dog in question in the cruelty case was a recent acquisition that he had no more than two or three days before the seizure. He said there could have been more new acquisitions that were identified by Jenkins, but he couldnt be sure, because he hadnt had time to check them.
During closing arguments, Goad said the Commonwealths cases had been clearly defined by the witnesses, who cited specific examples. He then read from the Virginia Code and brought up how those examples were in direct violation. He also said the testimony of those who were there outweighed the opinions of experts based on photographs.
Dr. Adams couldnt say one way or the other without examining the dogs, Goad said. There is sufficient evidence to convict.
Wards closing arguments centered on the fact that some of the identified dogs could have had preexisting problems or could have come from someplace else just before the seizure. He also noted that Horton said he took care of his dogs.
He had 700 dogs (taken) and you have 14 (that were considered to have severe problems), Ward said. You wouldnt find those odds in the hospital.
Geisler, however, felt the Commonwealth proved its case. Horton has 30 days from the time of the verdict to file notice of appeal.
In a separate incident, Horton has been charged with shooting a deer out of season and will have to appear in General District Court on August 15.