Soring hearing proceeds: Judge clears search warrant for raid on Larry Wheelon’s Maryville horse stables
By Iva Butler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A judge denied a motion to suppress the search warrant that led to the April 18 raid on Larry Wheelon Stables and began hearing testimony Wednesday in a preliminary hearing.
Larry Joe Wheelon, 68, Miracle Drive, Maryville, a long-time Tennessee Walking Horse trainer and owner, is charged with one count of aggravated cruelty to animals.
The charge involves a horse named She’s a Sweeper.
Blount County General Sessions Court Judge Robert L. Headrick ruled that Larry Wheelon Stables, located at 2742 Tuckaleechee Pike, Maryville, was a business and thus was open to the public.
In his motion to throw out the search warrant, Rob White, the attorney for Wheelon, had argued that the stable was private property and that U.S. Department of Agriculture Special Agent Julie McMillan had no right to enter the premises on April 17 without permission.
The preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is probable cause to send the case to a Blount County grand jury.
Under questioning by Blount Assistant District Attorney General Ellen Berez, McMillan testified that she went to the barn undercover after receiving information and photographs from confidential informants that soring was being practiced on the horses.
White argued again, as he had when seeking the search warrant suppression motion, that McMillan is not an expert because she has had no formal training on soring. However, the judge allowed her to testify on what she observed.
Soring is the illegal process of applying caustic chemicals, such as kerosene or mustard oil, to the horse’s legs; the leg is then covered with plastic and a leg wrap for several days to allow the chemicals to penetrate the skin. Duct tape is used to keep the covers in place.
Tennessee Walking Horses are gaited horses and soreness causes them to step higher, with the aim of producing a high step called the Big Lick for horse competitions.
McMillan said she knows of “no legitimate purpose for cellophane wraps.”
Saw legs wrapped
McMillan testified when she parked at the barn, she was met near the wide-open doors by Wheelon employee Tony Hughes. She said she inquired about an adjacent rental house and said if she rented the dwelling that she would want to board her horses at Wheelon Stables.
Hughes showed her around the stables, where the three or four horses she observed eating in stalls all had cellophane, cotton wraps and duct tape on their legs, she said.
“The barn was pretty much full from what I could tell,” she testified.
McMillian testified that she saw nothing else in the barn to cause her interest.
She then obtained a search warrant for the stables, which was conducted April 18.
White argued that McMillan said that Wheelon treats the horses in a “depraved and sadistic manner” and yet left the horses with Wheelon until April 25 when a second raid was conducted and the horses seized.
McMillan said the horses could not be seized until an arrest was made, and her agency does not do the arrests. Instead, the Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals is by law the agency charged with seizing the animals.
Blount County Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, with financial backing from the Humane Society of the United States, seized 19 of the 27 animals in the barn that were deemed to have signs of soring.
Horses moved again
The horses were taken to an undisclosed location, which turned out to be a farm in Crossville, and have since been moved to another undisclosed farm after the owners found out where the horses were being kept. It took until the early morning hours of April 26 before all 19 horses were moved to Crossville.
White questioned McMillan about whether she threatened Wheelon employee Tony Hughes that he might be facing obstruction of justice charges if he did not provide information. McMillan said she talked a lot about Hughes but denied making such threats.
She said, however, she did make those threats to his girlfriend’s mother.
The preliminary hearing is to resume at 1:30 p.m. today. Thee are several other witnesses that Berez and White intend to call to testify.