In a packed county courtroom Monday, Judge Dwight Phifer ordered the Anderson County Sheriff's Office to return nearly 100 cows, horses, and goats seized from Michael and Francis Dear last month.
The Dears will be responsible for transporting their animals home, the court ruled. They will not, however, be financially responsible for housing or vet fees for the seized animals, except for two emaciated white horses.
“I just want to thank all the people in the community who supported us through this ordeal,” Francis Dear, choking back tears, told the Herald-Press Monday. “To those who were so venomous towards us, here and on social media, I will be praying that God turns their hearts.”
Defense attorneys Charles Nichols and Donald Larkin petitioned the judge for a reimbursement of the Dears' court fees. However, when Assistant District Attorney Scott Holden rose to argue, Michael Dear told Larkin to disregard the request – he just wanted the case to be over.
Two white horses, emaciated, but alive, were also in the paddock with the dead livestock. Phifer ruled the Dears forfeit ownership of those animals.
“The other animals … were in good shape, with adequate water and food,” Phifer said. “I just cannot make a finding those animals were cruelly treated or abandoned.”
Last month, Judge Gary Thomas found the Dears responsible for cruel treatment of livestock, and ordered all animals seized from the Dear property to be auctioned. The Dears were also ordered to pay housing, vet, and court fees. A bond was set for $20,000 to cover the expected cost.
The Anderson County Sheriff's Office seized 95 animals – including 80 cows and 11 horses – from 240 acres owned by the Dears in the Elkhart/Slocum area.
The confiscation was ordered after Capt. Ginger Lively found 31 dead cows and horses on the Dears' property while investigating a complaint of a foul odor.
The livestock died from dehydration, having been mistakenly locked in a paddock away from their water source.
More than 50 residents, most in support of the Dear family, packed the Anderson County courtroom to hear the ruling on the Dears' appeal of animal cruelty.
Phifer's ruling came after two days of testimony from witnesses, law enforcement, and animal experts.