Santa Rosa equestrienne offered deal in horse abuse case
Published: Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 1:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 2:15 p.m.
Prosecutors offered Thursday to drop a remaining misdemeanor animal neglect charge against a former Santa Rosa Olympic equestrienne accused of starving a thoroughbred horse nearly to death.
In exchange, Gwen Stockebrand, 57, would agree to perform 100 hours of community service, her lawyer Margaret Weems said.
Stockebrand, who was originally charged with felony animal cruelty of a 30-year-old mare named Valerie, has not decided if she will accept the offer.
She maintains her innocence and may seek a complete vindication of allegations that have soiled her reputation and led to death threats, her lawyer said.
“It’s been very ugly,” Weems said. “I don’t know why they prosecuted this.”
Deputy District Attorney Barbara Nanney said the offer doesn’t mean prosecutors believe Stockebrand did nothing wrong. The charge would be dismissed only after Stockebrand completes community service and agrees to animal welfare inspections for the next year, Nanney said. In addition, Stockebrand must agree the horse will not be returned to her.
The original felony was reduced after a March preliminary hearing by Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite, who questioned the strength of the evidence.
Stockebrand, a member of U.S. equestrian teams that competed in the Olympics, world championships and the Pan American Games, was charged in December with depriving a horse of care on her Santa Rosa ranch.
The allegations came to light after an investigation by Sonoma County animal control officers found she tried to give two emaciated horses to a ranch in Willits.
Veterinarians said Valerie lost hundreds of pounds and recommended she be euthanized.
But the horses were turned over to Lost Hearts and Souls Horse Rescue. Valerie was saved but the other horse, Sister, later died. Stockebrand wasn’t charged in Sister’s death.
At the preliminary hearing, experts for both sides disagreed about whether either horse had been malnourished.
A prosecution witness said Valerie was reduced to skin and bones through Stockebrand’s neglect. A defense witness testified the horse was old but healthy and possessed angular features that made it appear underweight.
In her ruling, Thistlethwaite said the evidence supported a misdemeanor charge but would likely fall short at trial.
Stockebrand believes animal rescue operators bear some blame for Sister’s death. Betsy Bueno, president of Lost Hearts and Souls, called the accusation “insane” and said UC Davis confirmed Sister died of an unrelated medical condition. Bueno nursed Valerie back to health, she said.
Meanwhile, Judge Peter Ottenweller gave Stockebrand until June 18 to accept the offer or set a trial date.
Stockebrand, who was named to the Equus Hall of Fame in 2010 by the Sonoma County Horse Council, might accept if she’s allowed to work with animals as part of her community service, Weems said.
“There is a lot of educating that could be done,” Weems said.
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