Amy, Andy, Belle, Clyde, Joy and Tyson are the names of Richard Fletcher's six horses. Police seized them from the Jeffersonville man last January. He's facing six counts of animal cruelty. And it's up to a jury to decide if they believe the allegations of neglect.
"The question to you is to determine whether or not food, water and medical care were deprived to these animals," Lamoille County Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Moll told jurors.
The state says Fletcher was first investigated for animal cruelty during the summer of 2011. That's when the Vermont Humane Federation took photos and referred the case to state police. Witness Deb Loring says one horse, housed in a tennis court, was in particularly bad shape.
"The horse was thin and had very cracked and fissured hooves," Loring said.
A large animal veterinarian determined the horses were malnourished and covered in botflies, but not on death's door. Fletcher promised to nurse his horses back to health. But six months later after no sign of improvement, police placed the horses in foster care. The state now hopes 94 photos will convince a jury that this is a clear cut case of deprivation.
"The hips were protruding. You could see the ribs. There was some muscle wasting in his neck," said Dr. Peg Larson, a large animal veterinarian.
But the defense claims Fletcher made a reasonable effort to care for the animals and says authorities had no proof these horses would not survive the winter.
"We don't convict people based upon what might happen. We base our cases upon what's on the ground. And in this case I'm going to ask you to return not guilty verdicts on all six of the charges," said Marc Eagle, Fletcher's lawyer.
The state plans to call additional veterinarians and state police investigators. The defense says Fletcher will take the stand, as well as an animal control officer and friends who helped him care for the horses. The trial is expected to take two days.
Animal cruelty cases rarely make it to trial. Lamoille County prosecutors say they only have one every few years.
Vermont's Public Safety Commissioner is fostering two of the seized horses.
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