Update–Briney Found Not Guilty of Aggravated Animal Cruelty in Admitted Beating Death of Shetland PonyDecember 10th, 2009 by Joe Burgess
A Drew County jury found Benjamin Briney not guilty of aggravated animal cruelty, following the admitted beating to death of a horse on August 1, with a baseball bat.
This is Arkansas’ first attempt at prosecuting someone under the new “felony aggravated animal cruelty” law that went into effect as of midnight on July 31. The death of this horse occurred approximately one hour later.
The background for Wednesday’s trial began around mid-July, when it’s owner loaned a Shetland pony to a family on Countryview Road, just south of Monticello, to be ridden at a child’s birthday party.
On approximately July 22, “Cupid” was reportedly attacked by another animal, causing severe injuries to the horse’s head and ears.
The first witness called was Peggy Trantham, the horse’s owner. She told the court that after the horse was attacked on July 22, a veterinarian checked the horse, and left an anti-biotic (which was to be given to it daily).
Briney was at the scene and lived nearby, so she soon asked Briney to “handle it”, explaining that she meant for him to provide nursing type care and feed the horse for her.
On July 31, the horse was again attacked by an animal, causing further damage. Trantham, after further questioning, admitted that she did not call the veterinarian this time. (It was explained that her son was having severe medical issues at the time.)
Testimony from Trantham, Briney, and another witness gave much different versions of who called whom, as well as when calls where made, and how many calls were attempted. (The jury was told that this witness had a prior felony conviction, just for the record.)
Shortly after midnight on July 31, which would now make it August 1, the date of implementation of Arkansas’ new “felony aggravated animal cruelty law”, Briney took the horse, which he described by him, as not able to stand by itself, into the woods.
Briney reportedly came out of the woods around 45 minutes later and told a friend of his (the other witness) that he had been “told to put the horse down”, “I did it”, “I killed the horse”, and “I used a baseball bat.”
The witness followed Briney back into the woods, where he told the court he saw the horse still alive. He added that Briney then began jumping up and down on the pony’s rib area, and then walked around to the front of the horse and said, “I’m sorry, Buddy,” and proceeded to hit the wounded animal in the mouth and nose area with the bat.
The witness estimated to the courtroom that he saw Briney hit the dying pony around 40 times, as Briney “hog-tied” the horse to the tree, when the pony was trying to get up.
Briney’s statement to Sheriff’s Dept. Detective Rick Rausch said that there was only one blow with the baseball bat. Briney admitted to the jury that there were three times he hit the horse with the bat. The witness estimated 40 blows were made to the animal.
Six photos were presented to the jury showing at least six separate injuries to the horse’s skull and jawbone, as well as the pony lying on the ground around the time of it’s death.
Peggy Trantham was recalled to the stand, and was questioned about her leaving the animal at the scene where the original attack occurred, the reason for calls made and not made to the veterinarian, and whether she tried to locate the horse’s remains after she was informed about it’s death.
She reportedly used phraes like “handle it” and “take care of it” to Briney, about the horse. Briney told the jury her words were “take care of it, go ahead and kill it, because she didn’t want to see it.” He then added, “it was suffering because they had pressured me into killing the horse.”
Under the new law there were two questions facing the jury: “Did he kill the horse?” and “was it torture?”
It was admitted throughout the trial that Briney killed the horse, but the legal definition of torture, as presented in court, included the word “knowingly”.
Deputy prosecuting attorney Zach Vaughn told the jurors, “It doesn’t matter if he hit the horse 1 time, 3 times, or 40 times, it’s still torture.”
Defense attorney Chris Hayes told them, “he believed the horse was suffering, and he acted in the only way he knew how to put the horse out of it’s misery.”
After 35 minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict of “not guilty”.
An annonymus member of the jury panel explained that there were three votes taken, with totals of 8-4, 11-1, then unamimous.
The jury’s decision kept coming back to the word “knowingly”. Based on how they felt Briney understood the situation.
Trantham’s testimony seemed to leave other questions unanswered.
Also considered was that Briney had taken care of the horse for a length of time, before it’s death, including feeding and medical care, which, to some extent, reflected positively upon him, in the eyes of the jury.