nailed the coonskin to the barn door when she reported on the Larry Joe Wheelon gang being indicted on 18 counts by a Blount County Grand Jury on Monday.
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Horse trainer Larry Wheelon, three others indicted on 18 counts of aggravated cruelty to livestock, conspiracy
By Iva Butler | (email@example.com)
Maryville horse trainer Larry Joe Wheelon, two stable employees and a farrier face 18-count indictments returned Monday by a Blount County grand jury charging them with aggravated cruelty to livestock and conspiracy.
The charges involve alleged soring of Tennessee walking horses, a practice of putting caustic chemicals, such as kerosene, on their front legs to make them sore so they step higher and produce the Big Lick step favored at walking horse shows.
Thirteen of the indictments are felony charges and five are misdemeanors.
Long-time Tennessee walking horse trainer Wheelon, 68, Miracle Landing Drive, Maryville, and stable workers Randall Stacy Gunter, 44, Ratledge Street, Louisville, and Brandon Randall Lunsford, 32, Blair Loop Road, Walland, face 13 felony and five misdemeanor charges of aggravated cruelty to livestock and conspiracy to commit aggravated cruelty to animals.
Farrier Blake Tanner Primm, 44, Glenn Road, Louisville, also faces one felony charge of aggravated cruelty to livestock and a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated cruelty to animals.
The men turned themselves in at the Blount County Justice Center at 6:40 p.m. Tuesday and were released on bonds at 9:45 p.m.
The Class E felony charges carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison and the misdemeanors 11 months and 29 days in jail, according to Blount County Assistant District Attorney General Kenlyn Forster, the prosecutor on the case.
“Because the alleged abuse occurred in the same time frame, any sentences would be served concurrently unless the state can prove otherwise,” she added.
The indictments charge the four men:
“¢ “Did purchase, mix and/or apply acid or other caustic substances or chemicals to any exposed area of walking horses, in a depraved and sadistic manner, without justifiable or lawful purpose, such that the walking horses suffered serious bodily injury; and
“¢ “Did purchase, mix and/or apply compounds, including blistering compounds, to inflict burns, cuts, lacerations, or other injuries or pain, by any method, to the legs or hooves of walking horses, in order to make the walking horses sore for any purpose including, but not limited to, competition in horse shows and similar events.”
Specific horses listed under the felony indictments are Los Lobos, Country Bumpkin, Fred/Coach’s Twisted Play (barn name and registered name), Lady Antebellum, Ferrell Hugh’s Final Score/The Stimulus, Night Shade/Black Night by Choice, In My Pocket, She’s Just Sweepin’/She’s a Sweeper, Sweepover, Shades of Cash/Greg, Sweepstakes Pzazz and Sweepstakes Mare/Sweep Sister.
Misdemeanor charges involve Sweeping Up the Cash, Coach Filly, Neyland and Jose’s Happy Feet/Laura Kate.
Neyland is the horse that broke free when the horses were being seized and injured the equine manager of Horse Haven of Tennessee, a group helping transport the horses away from the stables.
Kelli Bachman, investigative coordinator for Blount County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA), was elated with the indictments.
She presented 18 cases to the grand jury and indictments were returned on all 18.
“I’m elated with the outcome. I think justice will be served. It was basically therapy sitting in front of the grand jury and telling someone the truth. We’ve never been able to discuss this with anyone and the evidence is overwhelming,” Bachman said.
The case will now go to Blount County Circuit Court for a jury trial. The first trial date is set for 9 a.m. Monday in front of Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington.
The indictments are a result of a raid April 18 on Wheelon Stables, which were at that time located in a barn at 2743 Tuckaleechee Pike, Maryville.
The raid was conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture Agent Julie McMillan, assisted by the Humane Society of the United States, BCSPCA, and Blount County Sheriff’s Office. The purpose was to investigate soring allegations.
One week later on April 25, Wheelon Stables was raided again and BCSPCA seized 19 of 28 horses that reportedly showed evidence they had been sored.
The Humane Society of the U.S. had the horses taken to a secret location, a barn in Cookeville. That location was discovered by the owners of the horses and the horses were moved to other locations.
In a preliminary hearing Aug. 15, Blount County General Sessions Court Judge Robert L. Headrick dismissed the case because of a technicality.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian that inspected the horses, sent off samples from the initial raid and had the results of those tests, accidentally sat in court for 30 minutes during testimony. He had arrived on a plane from Mississippi and did not know that Headrick had sequestered those who were going to testify.
Headrick also ordered all 19 horses be returned to their owners.
They were transported home on three release dates, the final being Nov. 8.
The Humane Society of the U.S. paid for their veterinary treatment, care and transport, something Bachman said the BCSPCA could never have afforded.”
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