April 22, 2008

by Jan Loveless
Courtesy Texas Horse Talk

Gamblin Darlin's filly foal, who was killed at the age of 6 days. She didn't live long enough to be named.

Texas District Attorney Jeri Yenne will go for a torture conviction in the April 13 killing of Johnny and Edith Ray's 6-day-old tobiano filly and the wounding of her paint horse dam, Texas Horse Talk reports.

"It was an intentional infliction of cruelty to animals," said Yenne. "Maybe torture would be easier to prove with multiple gunshots, but truly the intentional infliction of cruelty is torture," added Yenne. "If someone shoots us, don't we feel pain? Certainly we have a felony-level offense here."

Yenne's ability to prove torture is critical to the case. Under the Texas Penal Code, animal cruelty law does not protect horses or other livestock species unless they are tortured or poisoned. Torture is defined in the law as "any act that causes unjustifiable pain or suffering."

A conviction under current animal cruelty law is a Texas Jail Felony, punishable by up to two years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine, if the perpetrator is an adult. In this case, it's a youth. A 15-year-old male was arrested for the shootings on Friday, April 18. He remains in custody, and has confessed to the shootings, according to Brazoria Police Detective Vicki Ellison.

The Rays' young filly was killed with a single pellet gunshot to the heart at close range, according to the necropsy report, and died quickly of internal bleeding. The mare, Gamblin Darlin, was shot in the abdomen, and survived. The mare and foal had been rounded up from a five-acre pasture and secured in a corral with the gate chained before the shooting occurred. As Detective Ellison said, the shooting was done "execution-style."

"I cannot comment on the guilt or innocence of the individual," said Yenne, or specifically on this case, "but many cases resolve without a trial if [the charge] is not contested, and a judge makes sentencing decisions." Although the alleged perpetrator in this case is a youth, he could be sentenced to serve time in the Texas Youth Authority or get another placement, perhaps in the mental health system.

Records on youth offenders are sealed in Texas when the youth reaches 17; even a convicted felon is then released to have a new chance at life. "I'm not talking about this individual, just generally, but if an individual re-offends after that, then any evidence of juvenile [criminal] history would be considered relative to sentencing," said Yenne.

Texas Horse Talk has learned from sources close to the investigation that this may not be the first horse shooting for the youth in custody, that he expressed no remorse in this case, and that he has been in trouble with school officials and the law since grade school. No previous animal cruelty charges have been filed against him, despite the story of an earlier, deliberate horse shooting.

If the arrested youth has indeed shot other horses, District Attorney Yenne said such crimes could be considered, regardless of whether charges were filed. "Crimes are committed against the state of Texas," said Yenne, "and not against individuals. It's not necessary for charges to be filed for a crime to be committed. People are often confused about that."

Yenne knows that Johnny and Edith Ray and horse owners everywhere would like to see justice in the brutal shooting of the Rays' horses. "[Texas] animal cruelty law needs to be changed to a third degree felony," said Yenne. "Those who are cruel to animals should serve time in the penitentiary," not just in Texas jails.

But Yenne assures readers of THT that the Brazoria County DA's office will aggressively seek the maximum penalty the law allows, by proving torture. "We're going to follow through on this," she said.