BRIDGEPORT — A Morrill County District Court jury deliberated six hours before returning a guilty verdict in the case against Jason Meduna.
The jury found him guilty of 145 counts.
Seven initial counts applied to specific horses, including two dead horses, one horse euthanized after Meduna’s arrest, and horses named El Mariachi, Wendy and Blue that were treated by veterinarians.
Seventy-four counts related to dead horses found in pits on the ranch and the remaining counts applied to horses seized from the ranch with poor body conditions.
In closing statements, Morrill County Attorney Jean Rhodes alleged that Meduna crafted stories about poisonings and the theft of a horse to create a diversion. She asked the jury to find Meduna guilty of neglecting the animals by depriving them of food, water and necessary care. He had a network of support, but never asked anyone about the “real problem” of starvation.
Meduna failed to get care for the animals because “(he) was willing to protect his image at the expense of the horses and burros at his place,” she said.
Meduna’s attorney John Berry asked that the jury find him not guilty, saying that Meduna may have been guilty of “stupidity” but firmly believed that his horses were suffering from poisoning or illness.
“He may have been arrogant,” he said. “He may have been stupid. He may not have been a ‘true cowboy.’ He did what he could to protect them. He may not have made the right decisions. In fact, he made some pretty stupid decisions.”
However, Berry said, cause of death couldn’t be determined in dead horses found on the ranch and that horses that survived didn’t suffer any long-lasting effects. He argued that if Meduna were guilty of any charge, he would be guilty of a lesser degree of animal abuse, a Class I misdemeanor.
The jury was instructed to weigh the Class IV felony count of animal abuse on each count. They were also allowed to weigh the lesser misdemeanor offense or return a verdict of not guilty. Rhodes said the jury found Meduna guilty of 145 counts, returning four not guilty verdicts on counts involving dead horses. She said those horses were skeletons.
Morrill County Sheriff John Edens said he felt that 145 out of 149 counts was a good result.
“It tells us that the jury was very diligent in the case. They considered each and every count.”
The verdict “showed the jury really worked hard,” she said, saying she respected the work of the jury, law enforcement and others involved with the case.
Edens agreed. “I appreciate the work that the jury did.They had to sit through a long week of a lot of testimony and deliberations were lengthy. I think they did a very good job.”
Meduna is set to be sentenced on Feb. 23, 2:30 p.m. Meduna faces a maximum of five years imprisonment, a $10,000 fine or both on each count. There is no minimum sentence for a Class IV felony.