“Leachman has blamed everyone else for not taking care of his horses…”
BILLINGS – After the longest trial in Yellowstone County Justice Court history, a jury found Billings livestock breeder James Leachman guilty on Tuesday evening of all five counts of abusing his horses.
On January 2011, the county attorney’s office charged Leachman with five misdemeanor counts of animal neglect.
The six-person jury deliberated for three hours after a trial that lasted seven days, instead of the usual one or two days.
During closing arguments, Yellowstone County Deputy Chief Attorney Rod Souza said at least five of Leachman’s 800 horses pastured on a ranch east of Billings suffered from leg bands used for identification that were too tight or from other leg injuries that were never treated.
“It’s not days. It’s not weeks. It’s months. And, it’s that amount of time that brings out the negligence,” Souza said.
Leachman has blamed everyone else for not taking care of his horses, Souza said, but that was Leachman’s duty.
Four of the five horses cited in this case died or were humanely shot because of these bands, Souza said.
“Even after charges were filed, he still never cared for his horses,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney Ingrid Rosenquist.
In Leachman’s defense, Deputy Public Defender Roberta Drew said the horses got injured some other way, not from the leg bands.
When the bands were removed from 300 horses wearing them on both front legs, there were minimal problems, she said.
“Two horses had some injury to their legs out of 600 bands,” Drew said in her closing arguments.
The bands were removed after Leachman’s horses were seized for trespassing on Crow tribal land and sold at a Bureau of Indian Affairs auction in April 2011.
At the end of his trial, Leachman testified in his own defense that he never had problems with the bands and would use them again. Contradicting a half-dozen prosecution witnesses, Leachman said no one told him about problems or showed him any injured horses.
“In Montana, if you see someone else’s livestock injured, you let that person know,” Drew said.
Souza said his neighbors stopped talking to Leachman because he is an “abusive and litigious” man. Souza questioned why other people could see the injuries when Leachman couldn’t.
No one else uses unbreakable leg bands designed for dairy cattle on horses, Souza said.
“They’re inherently dangerous. You can’t turn the horses out into the wilderness and never check them,” he said.
The five misdemeanor charges are “stacked,” meaning they collectively carry the same sentence as a single felony charge. Leachman faces a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Justice of the Peace Larry Herman scheduled sentencing for 3 p.m. Dec. 12.
Leachman, who left the courtroom without comment, could appeal the verdict to District Court.
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