Man Found Not Guilty in Cruelty Case
A Cameron man who once faced nine misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals was found not guilty Monday in Moore County District Court.
District Judge James P. Hill ruled out admitting any evidence seized under a search warrant executed last May when Animal Control officers raided Billy Campbell's farm, taking away more than 30 animals, calling it the largest operation of its kind in Moore County history.
Officers had expected to seize buffalo and goats as well, but they were no longer on the property, Animal Control Officer Frank Ringelberg said. They did seize 20 horses, eight cows, one bull and two llamas.
The search warrant under which the animals had been seized was invalid, because no sworn affidavit was attached to it, Hill ruled, granting a motion to suppress by defense attorney Butch Jenkins.
"It was all decided on procedure," Hill said in a brief interview after the trial.
He cited the section of state law governing the issue of search warrants, which requires a statement of probable cause in writing "supported by one or more affidavits particularly setting forth the facts and circumstances"
The sole charge left to be tried involved one horse a woman left with Campbell that she could not care for. She checked on the horse several times and found it in good condition, but in April she found the horse looking skinny and underfed.
Moore County Sheriff Lane Carter testified for the defense.
"He is Billy's next-door neighbor," Jenkins said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "You couldn't have a more credible witness than Lane. "He's been over to Billy's many times and testified he's never seen anything to indicate mistreatment.
"There wasn't any evidence offered of intentional neglect, as the law requires. There was not testimony about anything like that."
Carter testified that Campbell often takes in animals when other people are unable to care for them.
"I don't believe he would ever intentionally hurt or starve a horse," he said on the stand.
Assistant District Attorney Kelly Dawkins had little left to use once the photographs, testimony by Ringleberg about the raid, testimony from veterinarians, and other evidence produced as a result of the warrant were ruled inadmissible. All he could put on was one witness to say the animal she left with Campbell and visited was in bad shape the last time she went to the farm. He summed up the state's case based on that testimony.
"You have to look back at all the evidence, go back up the chain," Dawkins said. "She didn't give him a sick animal. She went back to visit, and the horse had deteriorated. No food, no water. The horse was in very bad shape. It took months to rehabilitate it back to health."
That was not enough to prove Campbell was guilty of intentional cruelty to animals as charged, Hill ruled. Speaking in a quiet voice that could barely be heard across the courtroom, Hill pronounced the verdict: "Not guilty."
The decision upset some animal advocates.
Lorin McNulty, who works with the N.C. Equine Rescue League, said Campbell's farm had been on their radar screen for years.
"We'd had complaints about him neglecting horses since 2005," she said in an interview in the courthouse lobby. "I was asked to make contact with Billy Campbell. I went out to his farm and walked up to the barn. He came out to meet me, and I told him about the complaints. I discussed educational programs to help him, and he agreed for me to come back in 30 days."
There were more visits.
"We met several times over the next year," she said. "It was always difficult."
Finally, patience ran out. McNulty said she saw plenty of good pasture land, but it was all grazed out most of the year, and Campbell didn't, or couldn't, buy enough grain to feed all the animals sufficiently.
"If you go out there in May or June, when there is plenty of grass, they look pretty good," she said. "But when they need to be fed with grain"
Of 19 horses and mules originally seized, all but one were successfully rehabilitated and adopted by new owners, McNulty said. One died of liver failure. Campbell settled a civil suit by Moore County for costs of care and upkeep of the seized animals by surrendering ownership and paying the county $10,000.
Ringelberg showed an album of photos they'd not been able to enter in evidence. It had shot after shot of bone-thin horses and mules, ribs plainly visible through their sides.
"They wouldn't let us say anything," McNulty said. "They didn't have that affidavit."
There are many ways in which an attachment can become separated from a warrant application, according to Clerk of Court Catherine Graham. Many people have access to the files in the office of the criminal clerks of court. Papers can get misfiled and affidavits filed back in the wrong folder.
"A lot of times sheriff's deputies and other officers like Animal Control keep copies of their affidavits for their own records," she said. "After it is clocked in with our office, they get a copy from us for their case files. That would be sufficient in court."
There are better ways to keep track of casework than in paper shucks kept in drawers, but they are all expensive.
"In a perfect world technology would docket those documents," Graham said. "But because of the masses of them that are filed in criminal cases, I would probably need 40 clerks instead of the 13 that I do have. It would require a lot more personnel and it would require counties to provide a lot more space."
Ringleberg checked with the issuing magistrate after the trial and said he insisted there had originally been one with this search warrant.
Jenkins doesn't remember it that way. One of the first things he said he noticed about the warrant application was that the section for probable cause was blank, listing only the statute being cited. There was no written statement as the law requires, he said.
It is an old law, enshrined in the Fourth Amendment: "no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, and that supported by oath or affirmation"
"This may have been a defeat for the state's case," Graham said. "But it was a victory for our liberty. It was a victory for the Constitution."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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