The Utah County Attorney's Office asked Howard to allow the auction after county officials placed a lien of over $15,000 against the Childses for the care and feeding of the horses. The Childses were notified of the lien, prosecutors said in court papers, and they failed to make payments.
An attorney for the Childses filed an opposition to the sale, but disagreed only with the amount of lien, not denying that the horses were malnourished or treated cruelly.
Howard wrote in his ruling that since the Childses disputed only the lien amount, he was persuaded to side with the state and allow the sale.
The public auction will take place on May 25 at 10 a.m. at the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds, 475 S. Main in Spanish Fork Building #3, according to a public notice filed in The Daily Herald. The notice says approximately 40 of the horses will be sold, and bidding will be open to the public.
According to court documents, Utah County authorities were tipped off about the malnourished horses in February 2013 after a neighbor noticed a black horse on the ground that could not get up and looked extremely underweight. The neighbor also noticed trees in the pasture that had been debarked by the hungry horses, according to a police statement.
"This is a case where this man Rory Childs has no business ever owning a horse," the neighbor wrote in statement to police. "... I have owned horses all my life. I have never seen such inhumane treatment of an animal."
Once deputies began investigating, they found that all of the horses showed signs of listlessness, lethargy and lack of adequate food and care, according to prosecutors. Four dead horses were found on the property, along with a freshly covered hole containing horse carcasses.
According to an autopsy, two of the dead horses were poisoned by eating moldy corn.
Two veterinarians who evaluated the horses both concluded that they were severely malnourished, one noting that no sign of adequate food or water could be found in the pasture where the majority of the horses were kept. According to a report filed in 4th District Court, one veterinarian noted that several of the horses had lice infestations and ticks spread "profusely" over their bodies.
Both Trudy Childs and Rory Childs are expected to be in court again on July 11 for a preliminary hearing.