MARYVILLE, TN – A Preliminary Hearing was held Monday by Blount County General Sessions Court Judge Robert Headrick to determine, based on eye-witness testimony and evidence presented, if probable cause exists for the Court to find that crimes of aggravated cruelty to animals were possibly committed by Randall Stacy Gunter and farrier Blake Primm. If Judge Headrick makes that determination, then the two defendants will be bound over to a grand jury, which may indict the defendants, and if so, they will face a trial before a jury of their peers.
Defendants Randall Stacy Gunter and Blake Primm are afforded the presumption innocence until found guilty by a jury of their peers. Similar charges against co-worker Brandon Lunsford were abated by the 33-year-old Lunsford’s death last month in an automobile accident.
The State of Tennessee was represented by Assistant District Attorney Mark Davidson from West Tennessee, and Assistant District Attorney Matt Dunn who is on the staff of Blount County District Attorney General Mike Flynn.
Randall Stacy Gunter is represented by George Waters.
Blake Primm is represented by Brian Nichols:
This horse soring case originated when the Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse training operation of Larry Joe Wheelon was busted on April 18, 2013. A Preliminary Hearing was held before Judge Headrick in August 2013, at which time Mr. Wheelon walked free on a technicality when Assistant District Attorney Ellen Berez lost track of a key government witness, Dr. Bart Sutherland, who sat in the courtroom for part of the testimony, and consequently was disqualified by Judge Headrick from testifying after objection by Wheelon Defense Counsel Rob White.
Larry Joe Wheelon walked out a free man, and then held court at the 2013 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration:
Then in December 2013, Larry Joe Wheelon and three Defendants, Randall Stacy Gunter, Brandon Lunsford and Blake Primm were indicted by a Blount County Grand Jury on testimony provided by Kelly Bachman, officer of the Blount County SPCA.
The four defendants were arrested and pled not guilty. Gunter and Primm are now back before Judge Headrick on a Preliminary Hearing due to alleged misconduct by Assstant District Attorney Ellen Berez relating to her allegedly agreeing not to go forward on the charges against Gunter, Lunsford and Primm in August 2013, and then the three were indicted in December 2013. After much wrangling through 2014, it was stipulated by the attorneys that three Defendants were to receive Preliminary Hearings which they were not afforded when they were indicted.
So that is what took place on Monday.
Yet, even on Monday, there continued to be confusion with the cases in that the Judge Headrick noted that the Case numbers were inconsistent and he only proceeded with the Preliminary Hearing after the attorneys made stipulations so the cases could move forward.
What then transpired was what would have taken place in August 2013, if the matter had been smoothly presented by Assistant District Attorney Ellen Berez who attempted it with no second chair.
That was not the case today and two veteran prosecutors Mark Davidson and Matt Dunn were in charge of presenting the matter to Judge Headrick.
The first witness called was USDA OIG (Office of Inspector General) Agent Julie McMillan who was directly examined by Assistant District Attorney Mark Davidson:
McMillian testified regarding a search warrant she obtained and executed at Larry Joe Wheelon’s Stables on April 18, 2013 with the assistance of the Blount County Sheriff Department.
She gave an account of arriving at the barn where the agents found Terry Hughes asleep in the stables. Mr. Hughes was surprised and after recovering his composure took the law enforcement officers and USDA APHIS personnel on a tour of the barn showing them and identifying the various horses. Mr. Hughes was present in court Monday and after he was located and subpoenaed to appear.
After the Wheelon barn raid occurred, Mr. Hughes left the employ of Larry Joe Wheelon. Mr. Hughes has not been charged with any crimes.
NOTES ON JUDY MCMILLAN TESTIMONY:
“Establish background ““Investigate April 18, 2013 Served a search warrant at Larry Wheelon Stables on Tuckaleechee Pike
Arrived early in the morning between 7 & 8
Search Warrant admitted into evidence.
Arrived on scene with Blount County Sheriff Dept. – Terry Hughes still in bed asleep ““ cleared the barn and made sure no one else was around. Around 24 stalls.
Two stalls converted and a little bathroom off to the side and a bed inside.
I had gone in under cover an inquired about boarding a horse on Apr 17. Talked with Terry Hughes
On April 18, the law enforcement officers Waked him up with blanket wrapped around him.
We secured area and made video of how we found the barn ““ always do that when we go in ““ Started labeling and sketching ““ before doing search (don’t have my notes) who with USDA, Becky Hicks Dr. Bart Sutherland and people with Horse Haven to help with handling horses ““ 4 people ““ Gino and Kelly Bachman with SPCA were there.
What were yall looking for?
We were looking for chemicals and sore horses, and devices used to sore horses. Mainly evidence of the soring ““ chemicals and sore horses.
Are you familiar ? I have worked cases in the past mustard oil kerosene possibly croton oil – there were several chemicals go jo stuff mixed with other chemicals.
Mustard oil applied to area just above the hoof ““ the soft tissue right above the coronet band ““ then cellophane ““ allow chemicals to go in to the skin quicker ““ then another wrap if horse has cellophane and other wraps ““ it is usually ???
Terry Hughes helped get horses fed and watered. We were there all day. He was helpful ““ helped handle the horses ““ once we got everything labeled ““ there were lots of containers – what they were used for and what they did. Hughes help id what horse was what. When we ran across different things in the barn ““ Hughes showed us around and id chemicals. He told us about some bolts or blocks ““ another device you use if you don’t use chemicals. Saw them ““
Saw big can of mustard oil. Other jars had other mixtures, When you opened them, they would burn your noses. The jars would put up to get them out of sight.
A number of chemicals were hidden behind the office.
‘What about gojo ““ nothing was labeled. Terry was telling what had been used. Had run out of croton oil in Feb. and switched to cinnamon oil instead of croton oil. Person in Shelbyville had been getting from had gotten scared and couldn’t get any more. Took the substances, and sent them to lab to be tested.
During the search, lots of people showed up. Larry Wheelon showed up. Everyone was kept across the street. I talked with Mr. Wheelon. Bobbie Jo Koger was with him in his truck. Mr. Wheelon said he was responsible for the barn. I think he said there were 24 horses, but I am not for sure. I turned inspection over to APHIS ““ Dr. Bart Sutherland who is vet and Becky Hicks who is investigative tech.
Each horse was given a number, inspected which was videotaped ““ Wraps removed ““ foot is swabbed ““ then vet can watch movement ““ then vet does palpation. Most of the horses were wrapped in cellophane and leg wraps and the horses had tail sets and blankets, and the equipment was removed and the cellophane removed and each horse was swabbed. I don’t know what happened to the cellophane. There were big piles of wraps in the halllway of the barn.
Dr. Bart Sutherland would observe ““ and the horses were led around.
One horse was too sore to even swab him. Too sore to touch. Other than him all horses were swabbed and tested.
We were hoping to find the Coggins tests and owners paperwork. We did not find Coggins and owners paperwork.
Who was the trainer of ???
Not at that time
Learned when talked to Terry Hughes. “In My Pocket” owned by Kenny Smith ““ older stud and his daughter Dalia(sp) was going to show Spring. Stacy Gunter was going to train and show the horse. (I think I have it in my notes) 15.2 & Under amateur class ““ “In My Pocket” was big lick horse. Told difference between flat shod and big lick.
Davidson: (Big Lick) This is what we used to see at UT football game?
JM – The pads are built up . The pads are totally legal. APHIS inspects horses at shows to be sure they are not sore. The chain hits on the horses foot ““ the horse feels it and flips his foot to create more action ““ would hurt more if sored when chain hit.
Beverley Hicks swabbed the horse. Was horse found to be sore?
Jose’s Happy Feet ““ feet looked real bad to me Objection Sustained
Terry had told us (Hearsay) What did you do with Jose’s Happy Feet ““ we had reason to believe something was under the pad, we removed the pad with owners permission, and there was blue epoxy pad between the bottom of the foot and pad
Did you see the blue epoxy? Yes
Primm atty object to leading question – sustained.
The front of the foot – “the foot had been filed down”
Introduction of photo into evidence ““ two more ““ pix of JM holding piece of blue epoxy curved –
Pressure shoing is terms with substance between bottom of foot and shoe.
“Putting rock in shoe” would be good analogy.
Farrier ““ walking horse – very specialized ““ not something that any farrier can do.
It’s a lot more complicated than regular shoeing.
I drove by and saw Blake Primm’s truck there a day or two before. Did you talk to Larry Wheelon? I did. One of them called Mr. Primm. LW would have had the phone #. We called Mr. Primm and he agreed to come remove the package.
What was done with the blue epoxy after Blake Primm removed it? We put it back in ““ for several reasons ““ it’s a new method that’s used ““ we knew what was doing was supposed to cause pain ““ the vet tested with calipers and horse didn’t give a pain reaction. JM I made a judgment call, I think we should put it back in and left the horse as we found it. When we back to the barn at a later date, we checked Jose’s Happy Feet and the epoxy had been removed.
All the packages were removed after the horses were seized. Only Jose’ Happy Feet at time of executing search warrant.”
Note: Cross Examination by Defense Counsel to follow later.
Stay tuned for more testimony which was given Monday which will include USDA Evidence Collector Becky Hicks and USDA Vet Dr. Bart Sutherland – and the final outcome of the Preliminary Hearing on Tuesday.
The Preliminary Hearing started at 1:30 p.m. Monday and continued until about 6:00 p.m. It ended with a question hanging as to whether mystery witness Terry Hughes will testify with possible grant of immunity from prosecution or whether Hughes will plead the Fifth Amendment and not give any testimony. Mr. Hughes was represented by counsel.
Nephew Eugene sure hopes Terry Hughes will testify.