Horses seized from Wheelon Stables in Maryville ordered returned ‘immediately’
By Iva Butler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A judge has ordered the immediate return of 19 horses seized April 25 by Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at Wheelon Stables in Maryville.
The horses are to be brought “immediately” to a barn at 2062 Old Niles Ferry Road, Maryville, but no exact date was stated in an amended order approved Wednesday by Blount County General Sessions Court Judge Robert L. Headrick.
Seven weeks ago Headrick approved an order to return the horses to Wheelon Stables at 2743 Old Tuckaleechee Pike, Maryville. However, Larry Joe Wheelon, 68, Miracle Drive, Maryville, had vacated that barn at the request of the owner. He was not to be on the property again.
The amended order Headrick signed Wednesday instructs the horses be returned to a barn that is owned by Mack McNutt.
Wheelon had been charged April 25 with one count of aggravated cruelty to animals, a felony offense. But in a preliminary hearing, Headrick ruled that the prosecution did not provide probable cause to bind the case to the Blount County grand jury.
A veterinarian who examined the horses and indicated that 19 suffered from soring was not allowed to testify because he heard testimony of another witness in court on Aug. 14. Headrick had sequestered witnesses outside the courtroom during testimony. The veterinarian, who flew in from Mississippi, arrived late and sat in the courtroom.
The custody agents for the horses are Kellie and Gino Bachman, BCSPCA animal cruelty investigators, and the care agency is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
The Humane Society is paying for the care and treatment of the horses, which were originally taken to a secret location at a barn in Crossville. The owners reportedly found out where the horses had been taken and the animals were again moved.
Wheelon’s attorney Rob White said he has filed a motion for contempt against the BCSPCA because the horses have not been returned as ordered at the preliminary hearing. A date for a hearing on that motion has not been set by Headrick.
According to Blount County Assistant District Attorney General Ellen Berez, prosecutor in the case, and the Bachmans, only HSUS officials know where the horses are now being kept.
“I’ve had to seek recourse from the court every step of the way to get the horses returned,” White said. “I will continue to do so until I get these horses returned.”
White said he is very concerned that when the horses are returned that they won’t be in good health. He pointed out that one horse broke free when attempts were made to load it for transport.
He also charged that “during transport another horse was injured because two stallions were placed too close together. One stallion got down and another stallion injured him by biting.”
White said he expects the order to be complied with soon or he will file another motion for civil contempt.
He took issue with reports that the case was dismissed due to a technicality.
“The judge made a specific finding that it was dismissed for lack of probable cause,” he said.
White also said the testimony of Julie McMillan (the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture agent who got the search warrant for the raid and arrested Wheelon) was “thoroughly impeached” by the judge.
‘I feel screwed’
Wheelon is bitter about the entire situation, saying published reports have caused him extreme suffering in the community.
“I feel screwed. The justice system isn’t going to do anything. They should have already had the horses here. That was ordered seven weeks ago. They just want to wear us out one at a time,” Wheelon said.
Jack G. Heffington, a Shelbyville attorney representing the owners, said, “I think it is a travesty of justice when people will not comply with a judgment that is court-ordered and completely ignore an order issued by the court.”
While White thinks the issue has been resolved, that may not be the case.
The charge against Wheelon can still be brought before a grand jury by Blount District Attorney General Mike Flynn.
“There is still research and investigation to be done. Our hope is to have it done and a decision made before the next grand jury, which will be Nov. 4,” Flynn said.
If the grand jury were to find probable cause, the case would tried in Blount County Circuit Court.