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Utah owners of malnourished horses catch a break

Published May 15, 2014 10:54 am

Court • Prosecutors had erroneously enhanced the original charges.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Members of a Utah County family accused of cruelty to horses are now facing lesser charges.

Trudy Childs, 59, and her son Rory Childs, 32, were charged last year in 4th District Court with 20 counts of animal cruelty after Utah County Sheriff's deputies found about 130 horses on their property that were malnourished, sick, dying or dead. All of those charges were dismissed two weeks ago and were re-filed, with lesser penalties, on Tuesday in the Utah County Justice Court.

The original charges were mostly class A misdemeanors, which carry potential sentences of a $2,500 fine and a year in jail. All of the new charges are class B misdemeanors, cutting their potential penalties about in half: class B misdemeanors carry a maximum $1,000 fine and six months jail time.

The prosecutors realized that they had misinterpreted the enhancement laws meant more for drug cases than animal cruelty cases.

Under Utah law, prosecutors can enhance a suspect's drug offense charges based on prior drug charges. This can even apply within the same case, allowing prosecutors to enhance subsequent counts based on the first one, said Utah County prosecutor Lance Bastian.

That is what happened with the Childses: the first charge was filed as a class B misdemeanor, then the other 19 were bumped up to class A misdemeanors because of that first charge, Bastian said.

But the Childses' defense team pointed out that the enhancement law is tailored more narrowly to include drugs, but not animal cruelty, Bastian said. So the prosecutors dropped the charges and re-filed.

According to court documents, Utah County authorities were tipped off to the malnourished horses in February 2013 after a neighbor noticed a black horse that could not stand 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.

About half of the Childses' horses were auctioned off in May 2013, after county officials filed a lien of more than $15,000 against the pair for the care and feeding of the horses.

The Childses are scheduled to appear in court on June 5.


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