Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Jackie McConnell Sentence: Probation and Fine for Tennessee Walking Horse Soring Abuse Captured on Undercover Video

Jackie McConnell was not allowed on the grounds of the 2012 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration earlier this month. This horse, Walk Time Charlie from North Carolina, was the judge's pick for World Champion. If some lawmakers have their way, he may be the last world champion to be shod this way. (Randall R. Saxton photo)

By now, everyone knows who Jackie McConnell is.

McConnell was videotaped beating a Tennessee Walking horse on an undercover video. The video portrayed McConnell as a vicious horse trainer who demonstrated many of the heinous crimes against horses that had been at the center of rumors about the treatment of Walking horses for decades.

The American public saw it for themselves when the video was shown by ABC News last spring.

A federal court in Tennessee found McConnell guilty of violating the Horse Protection Act and the trainer appeared in court today for sentencing.

While the judge could have sentenced the former trainer to five years in prison, he instead sentenced McConnell to three years' probation and a fine of $75,000. According to the Chattanoogan newspaper, the court gave McConnell nine months to raise the money to pay the fine and his horse trailer, seized during the investigation, will not be returned.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that McConnell cried as he read a statement saying that he takes responsibility for what he did. His two associates--including horseshoer Joe Abernathy--received probation terms of one year each.

Abernathy claimed that he was not involved in soring horses but was transporting horses for McConnell. He told the Chattanoogan, "I do feel remorse and this will make me a better person in the end."

The three pleaded guilty in May to conspiring to violate the Horse Protection Act. According to the Walking Horse Report, McConnell pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act. All other charges in the original 52-count indictment were dropped under the plea agreement.

Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The Humane Society of the United States, issued the following statement after the sentencing:

“Like many others in the Tennessee walking horse industry, Jackie McConnell has a long history of abusing horses for the sake of a blue ribbon and the profits that go along with it. He and his associates were caught on tape using painful chemicals on horses’ legs, and whipping, kicking and shocking them in the face—all to force them to perform the unnatural 'Big Lick' gait in competitions.

"The Humane Society of the United States is grateful that the U.S. Attorney took on this important case and sent a message that soring will not be tolerated. It was our hope that McConnell would do prison time for these terrible crimes, but there are gaps in the federal law that need to be strengthened.”

According to HSUS, McConnell and two others are also scheduled to appear in court later this month to face 31 counts of violating Tennessee’s state animal cruelty statute.

Public outrage over the McConnell video has led to renewed activism by lawmakers to strengthen the federal Horse Protection Act; the state of Tennessee has also expanded its animal welfare laws to include soring as a criminal act.

On the federal level, H.R. 6388, the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012, co-sponsored by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Jim Moran, D-Va., has been introduced to Congress with the aim of ending the failed system of industry self-policing, ban the use of certain devices associated with soring, strengthen penalties, and hold accountable all those involved in this cruel practice.

Thanks for great reporting to the Humane Society of the United States, The Walking Horse Report, The Tennessean, The Chattanoogan, and the Chattanooga Times Free Press from Tennessee today.

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