Thursday, May 6, 2010
After four days of trial and three hours of deliberation, an Ottawa County jury on Friday found Robin Vess guilty on 42 counts of animal cruelty.
Witnesses, including two veterinarians who assessed the animals, testified that Vess’ Arabian horses were starved and dehydrated.
When Ottawa County humane officer Nancy Silva seized the horses from the property, many of them had protruding ribs and hip bones from malnourishment.
Though the high-profile case has been a contentious one, the courtroom was silent as Municipal Judge Fritz Hany read the 42 guilty verdicts.
Silva and other humane society affiliates exchanged smiles and quietly clasped hands to celebrate the victory.
Vess sat stoically at the defense table. Hany allowed her to be released on a recognizance bond until her June 4 sentencing date.
He stipulated that she must be in daily contact with the probation department, required her to check herself back into mental health counseling and barred her from owning any horses in the meantime.
“Obviously we are satisfied the process worked,” assistant prosecutor Andy Bigler said.
A second-degree misdemeanor carries up to a 90-day jail sentence and a $750 fine per count; however, under state law, a person cannot be sentenced to more than 18 months in jail for misdemeanor charges. Bigler said he didn’t immediately know what kinds of fines Vess could face.
Vess’ attorney Mark Davis said he was shocked by the verdict.
“It’s a sad ending to a sad chapter in Robin Vess’ life,” he said.
Vess, who did not take the stand during the trial, said she was horrified at the prospect of going to prison.
“Anyone who really knows me would probably never believe it,” Vess said of the jury finding her guilty of animal abuse.
The 55-year-old Oak Harbor woman was once a well-known horse breeder and competitor. Vess said she lost money when the stock market plunged and suffered depression after the deaths of two aunts and her mother.
She said despite her financial troubles, she borrowed money to make sure the horses were fed daily. She vehemently denied abusing them.
“I think it was a really, really bad abuse of the word,” Vess said.
When asked how the horses got so skinny, she said, “Honestly, I don’t know ... I wasn’t out checking on them. I was just too sick to be out there most of the time.”
A farmhand who was compensated through a break in his rent testified that he fed the horses up to three times per day. He said when he brought it to Vess’ attention that some of the horses were looking thin, she told him to feed them more.
He denied telling anyone that there wasn’t enough food to go around, but dog warden Jolynn Hetrick testified Friday the farmhand told her on the day the horses were seized that he was doing the best he could with too little food.
The horses remain in the care of the Arabian Rescue Mission. Vess signed over ownership to the mission days after they were seized.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Posted by Terri Davis