Charges reversed in Loyalton animal cruelty case
A Loyalton cattle rancher’s conviction for animal cruelty was overturned on appeal in March, and the Sierra County district attorney has announced he will not bring new charges.
Silas Craig McHenry served roughly two years of probation after a Sierra County jury found him guilty in 2005 of starving cattle to death in the winter of 2001. He appealed the case to the California Third Appellate District in Sacramento, which overturned the conviction.
“The decision was reversed because the [trial] judge neglected to include a witness,” said Sierra County District Attorney Larry Allen. “I chose not to re-try the case because the defendant has served two years probation and I believe justice has been served.”
In 2001, Truckee’s Animal Control Division responded to a tip that McHenry’s cattle appeared starved, and discovered five dead calves and one dead bull in McHenry’s 100-head herd, according to animal control officers at the time of the trial.
McHenry said his key witness, Dr. John Maas of the UC Davis Veterinary School, wasn’t allowed to testify by the judge who acted as a “second prosecutor.” He contended the judge was combative during the case, and said he decided to appeal because he didn’t feel he had received a fair trial.
“Truckee Animal Control never bothered to get a large animal vet, and it was the UC doctor’s opinion that the cattle were well fed,” McHenry said.
Maas said from the standpoint of veterinary medicine, the case was straightforward.
“There was no way to determine starvation on carcasses sitting in a snow bank for days or weeks,” Maas said in a phone interview this week. “It would be like trying to determine how overweight an Egyptian mummy was.”
The technique used to determine body fat is meant to be used on live animals, and not applicable to dead livestock, Mass said.
McHenry said the calves were instead killed by a surprise blizzard in November of 2001.
Allen said when he tried the case against McHenry he argued a cold snap shouldn’t be enough to kill cattle.
“My position was: If properly fed, a cold snap doesn’t kill cattle,” Allen said. “They didn’t have enough meat on their bones.”
The Town of Truckee’s Animal Control Division responded to Loyalton’s alleged animal cruelty case because Truckee Animal Control contracts with regional jurisdictions that don’t have their own animal control division.
Brenda Lee, administrative secretary for Truckee Animal Control, said the division contracts with Sierra County, Loyalton, and eastern Nevada County.
Sierra County pays just over $10,000 quarterly for Truckee Animal Control to provide services on an average of eight hours a week.
This means that staff have training in livestock and large animals, and will draw on the expertise of local veterinarians when they have questions on livestock, Lee said.
Generally, animal control enforces animal and livestock ordinances, issues citations, and follows up on cruelty cases, she said.
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