District Attorney Flynn may take Larry Wheelon case to grand jury
By Iva Butler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Larry Wheelon aggravated animal cruelty case may be taken directly to Blount County Grand Jury by Blount County District Attorney General Mike Flynn.
Tuesday Flynn said he is still in the process of looking at the case and could take it before the grand jury for consideration. The next grand jury convenes in September, but Flynn said there is absolutely no way the Wheelon case would be considered at that time.
The case was dismissed on a technicality Thursday by Blount County General Sessions Judge Robert L. Headrick.
Dr. Bart Sutherland of Washington, D.C., was the veterinarian that examined the 27 horses in the Wheelon barn on a raid conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture Special Agent Julie McMillan on Aug. 18.
Sutherland was flying in from Mississippi when the case started and did not realize Headrick was swearing in witnesses every day and sequestering them outside the courtroom.
Sutherland came in and sat in the back of the courtroom for about 30 minutes while testimony was under way. Because of this breach, Headrick dismissed the case.
In the Aug. 18 raid at Larry Wheelon Stables, 2743 Tuckaleechee Pike, Maryville, Sutherland deemed 19 of the 27 horses appeared to have suffered from soring. They were later confiscated by the Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA) in a raid on April 25. Samples obtained from the legs of the horses were sent for testing to the Southwest Regional Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and apparently indicted the presence of caustic chemicals or devices used in soring.
After the case was dismissed Thursday, Blount Assistant District Attorney General Ellen Berez said that had if the vet been allowed to testify he would have said on a scale of 1 to 10 on the soreness scale, one of the horses, She’s A Sweeper, would have rated a 9 or 10. Sutherland said it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen, Berez said.
In that raid, items associated with soring that were confiscated included mustard oil and kerosene.
In soring cases caustic chemicals are placed on the legs of the horses, covered with cellophane and cotton wrapping and then secured with duct tape. This results in the front legs of the Tennessee Walking Horses becoming sore, causing them to step higher. The motion is called “the Big Lick,” a high step that the gaited horses do not do naturally. A high step is one quality that judges look for in horse shows.
It is ironic that Flynn said he was considering taking the case to the grand jury on the eve of the 75th Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, which starts today in Shelbyville.
Flynn said the action he is seriously considering is nothing out of the norm. It is not unusual in cases like that of Wheelon, which get dismissed in the preliminary hearing, to be taken directly before the grand jury, Flynn said.
Larry Joe Wheelon, 68, Miracle Landing Drive, Maryville, was arrested and charged April 25 with aggravated cruelty to livestock by McMillan, one of two agents for USDA assigned to Tennessee.
Once confiscated, the 19 horses were taken to a then undisclosed barn in Cookeville, which was later identified. The horses were moved again to another secure barn, and the only people who know their whereabouts are with the Humane Society of the United States, the group paying for the veterinary care, feeding and housing for the horses. The horses are in the custodial care of Kellie Bachman of BCSPCA.
James Heffington, a Shelbyville attorney represents the horses’ owners, is seeking to have the horses returned to the owners. Monday he said he was waiting for information on the return of those animals, but so far that has not happened.
Rob White, Wheelon’s attorney, tried initially to get the case thrown out because of required information that was allegedly lacking in the McMillan search warrant. That motion to suppress was denied by Headrick.
Flynn said McMillan could file the case in federal court, which has less strict requirements for search warrants than the Tennessee law. However, the case would not be prosecuted as a felony in federal court.
In a previous interview with The Times, Wheelon denied soring any horses. He is a long-time area Tennessee Walking Horse trainer and owner.