Guilty on All Counts! Felony Horse Cruelty Case
Guilty on all counts – 10 felonies and 10 misdemeanors! Guilty of intentionally causing the starvation deaths of nine horses and the imminent death of one. That was the verdict rendered by Judge Robert Freehill in the precedent-setting horse cruelty trial of Jeanne Ryan in Orange County Court. At a later date, the judge sentenced Ryan to the maximum allowed: two years in the Orange County jail.
This was a horrendous case of horse cruelty that animal advocates and the general public found unfathomable. Ironically, Jeanne Ryan, a retired NYPD officer, who had owned horses for years, had actually helped transport horses in a cruelty case in the past. Why had she done this to her own horses? It appears we will never really know.
What we do know is that ten horses were confined to stalls in a barn sometime in late 2016 through early 2017 – and were never let out again. According to court testimony, Ryan ordered her son to feed them small rations and “stretch” the hay. She demanded that he continue the starvation diet, despite his reporting to her that the horses were dying. It appears she simply did not want to spend money on food for the animals.
When the authorities finally entered the barn, after Ryan’s son had reported the conditions to police, only one horse peered out at his rescuers. With skin tightly stretched over prominent bones, he was stuck in a stall with a decaying horse – but Shamus was alive. He had survived by eating his own feces — a very rare behavior for horses. He must have had a tremendous will to live. Yet according to the veterinarian on the rescue team, Shamus was within days of death himself.
In the other stalls, authorities discovered the desiccated remains of five horses. The deaths of the other four horses had to be proven through the testimony of the son and his girlfriend, which was then corroborated by the testimony of a forensic entomologist who said there was scientific evidence that large decaying carcasses must have been present in the stalls.
Though Ryan blamed her young son for the starvation deaths, claiming she was not well and he was tending to the horses to earn his keep, the Orange County prosecutor presented evidence to show that she was the one responsible for intentionally starving her horses to death. In fact, after her son had moved from the property, and she was in charge of the horses, she continued to “stretch it” and starve them. He called numerous witnesses, including the expert entomologist whose testimony regarding insect evidence in the stalls confirmed the timeline and lack of food sworn to by others. As a result of the overwhelming evidence, Orange County Judge Freehill found Ryan guilty on all counts in a bench trial.
Equine Rescue Resource staff removed Shamus during the rescue and provided him with veterinary and farrier care and an appropriate diet. When he regained his strength, he was gelded. Shamus was transferred to another equine rescue organization for further rehabilitation and training. The change in his appearance is remarkable and his advances in training are impressive. Sometime soon, it is hoped he will be placed in a good, loving home.
Upon her release, Ryan faces several conditions. Judge Freehill’s sentence imposed restitution for the care of Shamus during the period before he was surrendered. He also ordered that Ryan cannot own animals for 15 years after her release from jail. In addition, her name has been added to the Orange County Animal Abuse Registry.
In appreciation of the stellar work, dedication to justice, and precedent-setting approach to this case, several Board members of NYSHA honored the Orange County District Attorney’s Office with an Award of Excellence. Chief ADA Christopher Borek and ADA Anika Mohammed did yeoman’s work on this case, which could not have happened without the support of the entire office, headed by District Attorney Dave Hoovler. They were all truly dedicated to seeing that justice was served in this case and they succeeded!
New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XXXIII, Spring 2019.