Dozens of new charges may come against the couple accused of starving horses at their Pleasant Prairie farm.
David White and Paula Moctezuma-White were in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing on charges that they mistreated animals on their farm, leading to their deaths.
They waived the hearing and entered not-guilty pleas, which allow the case to continue. They had each initially been charged with one count of animal mistreatment causing death; four more were added Wednesday. Each charge comes with the possibility of 18 months in prison and two years on extended supervision.
Their attorneys argued that the felonies should be reduced to misdemeanors or dismissed entirely, saying the allegations don’t rise to the level of felony mistreatment of animals, which requires an intentional act. The allegations in this case, they said, are of the couple failing to act.
“(These allegations) are of failing to provide food,” said attorney Michael Cicchini, who is representing Moctezuma-White. “There are other reasons why a horse wouldn’t eat, such as illness. This is the very definition of negligence.”
The attorneys said this case was more like the negligence shown by a dog owner who fails to control a vicious dog, that then goes out and bites someone rather than an intentional act of mistreatment.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Phan said the seriousness of these allegations, and the length of time a veterinarian said some of the horses struggled on the ground before dying, turns this into an intentional act.
“I would more equate this with starving an infant by withholding food,” she said, noting that the animals were entirely dependent on the Whites for their care. “The defendants made conscious choices to have these animals. To starve an infant to death, that is murder, and quite frankly, so is this.”
The state may file as many as 69 more felonies for the deaths of the 55 horses, 12 goats and two cows whose carcasses were found on the farm, Phan said, as well as “numerous misdemeanors for the living conditions of the birds, rabbits” and other animals.
Court Commissioner Jon G. Mason agreed with the state and kept the felony charges. He took the defense’s side on another issue, however. The state asked that the commissioner require the Whites to pay money to remain out of jail; Mason said the $10,000 signature bond the couple now has is sufficient.