An audible gasp filled a Sonoma County courtroom this week when a photo of a severely underweight dead horse flashed on-screen during a felony animal cruelty trial.
The 28-year-old horse, named Yiyo, was found dead in its stall on a Bloomfield property Nov. 26, 2007, from what prosecutors allege was neglect and abuse at the hands of owners Laura Valencia and Salvador Barrera, both 35.
Valencia and Barrera face a maximum of three years in prison on the felony charge, prosecutor Marianna Green said, and possible fines. They have pleaded not guilty and remain out of custody during the trial.
The couple are facing one felony animal abuse charge in Yiyo's death and three misdemeanor charges in connection with the treatment of two other horses and a dog found on the property when Animal Control officers responded to the dead horse.
The other horses, Jack and Katie, survived and were adopted into new homes after being rehabilitated by a local horse-lovers group called CHANGE, Coins to Help Abandoned and NeGlected Equines, said group member Katie Moore.
Valencia's attorney, David Sherer, denies his client abused Yiyo. Barrera's attorney didn't return a call seeking comment.
Veterinarian Grant Miller testified Tuesday that the horse weighed less than 800 pounds, about 350 pounds under normal weight. He said there was no food or water in the stall and that Yiyo may have resorted to eating feces.
Miller showed photos of other horses considered in ideal health, then showed a picture used in veterinary medical circles to illustrate a severely emaciated animal.
Yiyo's corpse was in a similar state of malnutrition, Miller told jurors, with bony points protruding around its ribs, hips, spine and withers, areas that have healthy fat deposits in a properly cared-for animal.
Yiyo died of colonic torsion, a twisting of the intestine, both sides agree. The painful condition, also called "twisted gut," is treatable, according to the equine health center at the University of California Davis veterinary school.