Equine Rescue

Montana Horse Breeder Pleads Not Guilty to Animal Cruelty Charges

story from the Billings Gazette

Leachman Assumes no Accountability for His Starving Horses

Horse Breeder gone bad, James Leachman doesn't think dying horses are a big deal ~ photo by Bob Zellar

James H. Leachman of Billings pleaded not guilty to 10 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty Friday in Justice Court and said he will ask for a jury trial.Relaxed and joking with others in the courtroom, the 69-year-old Leachman appeared without an attorney before Justice of the Peace Larry Herman and was released without bail. If convicted on all counts, he faces up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Deputy County Attorney Ingrid Rosenquist said the county does not object to Leachman visiting the ranch to care for the horses, but said he must first call the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office.

“I go out there every day, almost,” Leachman said, after his arraignment.

Ranch hand Kenny Kukowski, however, told the county attorney in early January that he hadn’t seen Leachman at the ranch since the first week in November.

Leachman’s next hearing was set for April 12 with a possible jury trial June 3.

Following Friday’s hearing, Leachman distributed a statement in which he apologized for any “embarrassment, disappointment, or distress” the controversy has caused the livestock industry. But, “only four horses, out of a very significant number, are dead and two of those horses were shot by authorities,” he said.

As many as 700 horses are running on Leachman’s former Home Place ranch and several neighboring ranches along along Highway 87E east of Billings. Since the charges were filed, a massive rescue effort has been mounted to get food and water to the horses.

Leachman blamed Turk Stovall and his family, which now owns the ranch, with moving his horses around without permission and trapping them. He said he will ask for a dismissal of the charges due to lack of proof that “the horses died due to unacceptable agricultural practices and for jurisdictional questions since the horses were largely on Indian trust land on the Crow Indian Reservation.”

Stovall said he wasn’t surprised at the plea.

“Who would be surprised? Jim has never taken accountability for anything he’s been accused of, to my knowledge,” he said.

On Jan. 21, the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office filed five main and five alternate misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty against Leachman for the deaths of several horses.

The county attorney’s office alleges two of Leachman’s horses had starved to the point they had to be put down, and three others were severely injured because of neglect.

Two weeks ago, Shepherd veterinarian Jeff Peila said many of the Leachman horses were starving and would begin dying in droves by the end of January. Since then, the weather has warmed up enough to melt snow and ice, providing drinking water for the horses, and Thursday more than 20 tons of hay were airlifted to some of the more isolated horses.

As of Friday, the rescue effort, dubbed Operation Home Place, had raised $17,000 and had pledges of more than 500 tons of hay.

Cold weather is returning this weekend and Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder said water will be hauled from Billings as needed. Horses must have water to drink if they are fed hay.

Leachman is charged with “knowingly or negligently” subjecting an animal to mistreatment or neglect by failing to provide veterinarian care for serious injuries that caused the animal’s injury or death.

The charges are based on five injured horses, including one old mare who was starving, that investigators witnessed between Dec. 29, 2010 and Jan. 15, 2011. By the time authorities got a search warrant Jan. 15, only two of four horses marked for euthanasia could be found and were mercy shot by Sheriff’s Lt. Kent O’Donnell.

The Home Place ranch has been at the center of a lengthy legal dispute.

The former Leachman ranch was sold at a federal foreclosure sale last July for $2.6 million to the Stovall family. The Stovalls said Leachman was supposed to move his horses seven months ago when he lost the ranch, but Leachman refused. Leachman has until July to redeem the ranch by buying at back.

The hundreds of horses are running on the Stovall ranch and several neighboring ranches, and Turk Stovall said they’re eating about $500 worth of grass a day.

Sheriff’s Office officials plan to visit the ranch again Saturday to deliver more hay.

Meanwhile, area landowners held another meeting with Yellowstone County officials Friday to work on a long-term solution.

“We’re talking with landowners today to assure them we’re doing everything we can as far as our efforts to take care of the horses,” Linder said.

Donations to aid the hungry horses may be made through the Northern International Livestock Exposition’s website at www.nile.org.

14 replies »

  1. This is not a laughing matter. How could he say that “no big deal for dying horses” How deplorable. By the looks of him, he hasn’t lost a meal over this. Throw the bum in jail and bless the people for helping those horses. What a terrible thing for any animal to endure over the callousness of this man.


    • Nor a six pack! What are the priorities here!!?!

      If there is a problem, ask for help! Don’t allow the suffering of many, many innocent creatures in your care, because of stubbornness or pride, or whatever!

      Mega neglect and denial are inexcusable!!!


  2. Why in the world is this man charged with only four counts of animal abuse, when he was allowing hundreds of horses to starve?


    • They’re going with their best chance of conviction … 5 dead horses. If they muck it up with generalized neglect and abuse, he has a better chance of getting off.


  3. He knowingly did wrong to those horses., He is not a 10 year old. Even then a ten yr old would take better care then this HOW OLD<69. He should be accountable.
    He did the crime, do the time.
    He is probably the type that sends most of his horses to slaughter to make up for the money he lost in the breeding.


  4. So two were shot by authorities (which I think he is hoping that makes it look like not all of the deaths were “his fault”) … yeah, the one mare the authorities had to shoot had a broken ankle and had been walking on bone for months.

    I know Ingrid Rosenquist (county attorney) personally and she is a huge animal advocate! I am hopeful she will sink her teeth into Leachman and never let go!


  5. i have yet to hear about anyone serving time for animal abuse & neglect. i watch animal cops all the time and NOBODY goes to jail for these crimes…..this guy should be the one. i’ve always believed “an eye for an eye”………..so let’s withhold food, water and obviously beer from this slob for 3 months, if he doesn’t go to jail. this is horrible and he needs to be made an example of.


    • Michael Vick did time (although not enough) and well he should. We have had a few in Oregon who have done time as well. Everyone-owner, bank and new owners-in this case should be held responsible. Seems money was all that mattered to any of them and to heck with the innocent horses that were in the way.


  6. This is the Problem, the only way to get justice for animal abuse and cruelty. is to have the Penalty fit the crime, it should always be to have the Accused and convicted under supervision of course !! To take care of animals , this way they would learn to respect them……to starve any animal in this manner is with out a doubt the most unexcuseable crime animals cannot take care of themselves the being under the care of a human, they purchased them that makes them totally accountable to feed them and take care of them…..Everything in our lives that we take on is our responsibility…. I can tell by the looks of this man he didnt deny himself food or beer…………….For him to re guard starving any animal as no big deal is unacceptable…………….And requires a huge penalty………………………


    • I don’t think most who abuse animals can be taught otherwise. They have something missing in their makeup. There are exceptions-people who have love for the animal and have run on hard times and been overwhelmed but people like all concerned with this case are only worried about money.


      • Took an animal control course, once, to learn more about the law and how to proceed with a seizure in cruelty and neglect cases and walked away with a bit of information that I was not planning on retaining yet here it is.

        All serial killers make one final stop before moving on to taking the lives of human beings and that’s large mammals such as horses. Bundy and all of them visited their psychotic wrath upon eqjuines and when they no longer satisfied their blood lust they moved on to mutilate and kill humans…makes you sort of wonder about these pro-slaughter low-lifes, doesn’t it?


  7. Yes it does, every State which housed a Slaughter House , Had Horrific crimes comment on Humans………………….. Thats tells it all, and its all i i need to Know !!!!! SLAUGHTER is a HUGE WORD , It describes the MOST Horrific circumstances, it is surround by Death and Destruction……….. it destroys all involved, It is what it is……………………………………. It creates HUMAN MONSTERS of EPIC Proportions…………………………….


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