In an emotional second day of testimony Friday in an animal cruelty case, Francis Dear broke down sobbing, after she was shown photos of her seized mare.
Judge Dwight Phifer is expected to rule Monday morning on Francis and Michael Dear's appeal of a judgement making them responsible for the cruel treatment of their livestock.
During Friday's hearing, to establish that the Dears were incapable of animal cruelty, defense attorney Charles Nichols asked Francis Dear to give three facts about each of her horses.
Dear told the court each animal's name and lineage, and even had an occasional anecdote. Upon reaching a photo of her personal horse, however, Dear was unable to choke back tears.
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 fees, vet fees, 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.
On Friday, defense attorneys attempted to draw parallels between the ACSO's hasty handling of the Dears' case, and an animal cruelty case from December 2018 that the office still has under investigation.
After a relevance objection by Assistant District Attorneys Scott Holden, and Carrie Warner, Phifer cut off the debate.
“I don't care if the seizure was justified or not,” Phifer told Nichols. “I don't care if the two cases were treated differently. These animals have been seized, and I have to make my own decision as to whether they were cruelly treated.
“Whether it was proper, or whether they should have been seized is irrelevant – I just don't care. It has no affect on my decision.”
The seizure came after ACSO Capt. Ginger Lively found 31animals – 21 horses and 10 cows – dead from dehydration during an investigation into a foul odor complaint.
Local realtor Martha Ellen Paxton, a business associate of the Dear family, defended the Dears.
“This was a tragic mistake,” she told the Herald-Press Friday. “A fence was placed between these well-loved animals and water. It's as simple as that.
“It was heart-wrenching mistake, and the Dear family is devastated more than anyone else.”
During his testimony, Michael Dear, an attorney specializing in LLC's, told the court a new gate left open must have accidentally shut, trapping the livestock. The gate had been installed on an incline, he said, and could easily have been shut by a strong wind, if not closed mistakenly by someone else.
Jose Rodriguez, a fence-installer who has worked for the Dears for more than a year, testified he apologized to Francis Dear upon hearing the news of the animal deaths and the seizure.
“I texted Francis that I felt bad for what happened,” Rodriguez said. “[I said] this was all our fault. But we left the gates open.”
When Holden asked how it could be his fault if the animals died because the gate was accidentally closed, Rodriguez said he “was trying to make her [Dear] feel better.”
The confiscated livestock are being cared for by Dr. Joe Hardt, a local veterinarian, at two locations: one a local sale barn and the other a property owned by a cowboy contracted by the Sheriff’s Office.
Local equine veterinarian Steve Hicks testified Friday the conditions at the sale barn are not adequate for the cattle. It would have been better for the animals' health, he said, to have remained on the Dears' property.
“There's a number of cattle living on a sandy lot,” Hicks told the court. “They have only partial bunkers of very poor quality hay; five bales I saw were completely inedible.”
“Every decision should be what is in the best interest of the animal,” she said. “To move them was pure drama and for front page news. It had absolutely nothing to do with what is in the best interest of these poor creatures.
“What the thoughtless and reckless county officials did in putting these grand creatures in further distress is absolutely unforgivable. These same county officials have, in the recent past, shown less regard for the incarcerated people in their care.”
This case will be filed with Anderson County District Attorney Allyson Mitchell’s office. Mitchell will decide whether to prosecute it as a criminal matter.
If prosecuted criminally, animal cruelty, under Texas law, can be either a Class A misdemeanor or a 3rd degree felony.
“I will evaluate the case and decide which path to consider, once I am able to review all of the evidence submitted in the report,” Mitchell stated Friday in an email to the Herald-Press.