Horse Advocates was present for each day of the Sherri Brunzell/Dual Peppy animal cruelty trial. These are the notes taken detailing testimony given in the case. Final sentencing will be August 13th at 10 am.
Jury selection took 4 ½ hours. The Judge was careful to explain the concept of assuming innocence until proven guilty and the Attorneys selected a jury of 6 with 1 alternate: 3 men and 4 women. At 1pm we broke for lunch.
The afternoon set the stage for the trial with three witnesses for the prosecution. The first was Denise Pipher, there when the horses were discovered. She is the mother-in-law of Diana Ragula who called the sheriff’s office and press. She described what she saw and was questioned by both attorneys.
The second witness was Deputy Larry Murphy, of the Mounted Patrol, who was in charge of the initial investigation. He reported that the horses were “somewhat thin” and need farrier work. The horses had water but no feed, although 5 bales of hay were visible. Brunzell told them that she fed every other day and puts out the quantity of food required at that time. Several officers were also there, including Det. Mike Boggs. That Friday evening, Deputy Murphy left Brunzell with a notice to comply that required the horse carcasses be “cleaned up” and farrier work done. No mention was made of any other issues; no mention of the condition of the surviving horses other than their hoof length, or the number dead. Brunzell was given 2 weeks to comply.
The third witness was Det. Boggs, who assisted that Friday, the 19th of September, and also returned Monday, the 22nd. They had a search warrant, Randy Parker, DVM joined them, and at that time photos were taken of each of the skeletal remains. The photos were grisly, as you would expect. We were shown a drawing of the facility and where the bodies were found. Det. Bogs worked with Parker to get evidence and check age and condition of the remains, remarking that none had been shot or seemed to show skull damage. The surviving horses and llamas were seized that day.
It’s hard to give an overall feel to this first day. It was low key and the testimony was matter of fact. We are hoping tomorrow, as the vets and other experts are called, that we will have a better feel for how it’s going. Today was just the start and it’s too soon to draw any conclusions after less than three hours of actual trial.
The trial continues tomorrow at 1:30 pm with more expert testimony. There were Horse Advocates in attendance, not a large number though. If you can join us tomorrow, please do.
Brunzell/Dual Peppy Animal Cruelty Trial: Day Two
We had a very full half-day of testimony, starting with Randy Parker, DVM. He was the veterinarian called in by the El Paso County Sheriff to evaluate the horses in the Brunzell barn. He began with the ten surviving horses (6 stallions and 4 mares) and in testimony, using both photos and his intake paperwork, the Asst. DA directed him to comment one by one, on each horse. Many were hard to catch and halter, with one 7-8 year old stallion described as “terrible and dangerous” to handle. Body scores ran from 2 to 5, most were in need of urgent hoof care, but that would be addressed by another expert later.
One of the horses in the worst physical condition was Dual Peppy, 22 years old. The photos showed protruding hip bones and his entire spine revealed, for a body score of 2. Dr. Parker noted that along with that, he had a stifle injury and was lame on his right front leg.
The same was pattern was followed in going through the skeletal remains of 14 horses. Ages were estimated by teeth, hoof length stated, as a means of judging neglect. Again, one by one, each carcass was noted. A few of the remains were missing hooves, which stay intact generally. Although 3 of the carcasses were likely aged approximately 20 years old, over half the remains were estimated to be younger than 10-12 years old.
Dr. Parker went on to describe the barn’s deplorable condition, with manure 4 feet deep in areas and he concern that the number dead was unusually high. Mrs. Brunzell had told him they were all older and died of colic. Parker defined colic for the jurors and said it was highly unlikely that so many would succumb at a close time range.
The jury asked several questions to clarify and paid close attention to all testimony. Dr. Parker gave credible testimony, for a solid 90 minutes.
At 3:25 Garrett Leonard, Director of Harmony Equine Center, part of the Denver Dumb Friends League, was called to testify. Harmony is the facility the seized horses were taken to and one more time, for each of the 10 horses, intake forms and photos were shown, along with reports of each horse’s weight each week.
Both the El Paso County Sheriff and Harmony used numbers to identify the horses, no names. But on the intake for Dual Peppy they estimated his age, from his teeth, to be 30+ years. His weight was 896 pounds. He went on an immediate refeeding program and his teeth were floated. Full xrays were taken to diagnose his lameness and atrophy of his left hip. Dual Peppy was given stifle injections and joint supplements, as he was in pain and laid down much of the time.
Each of the horses had dental floats, except for one mare who couldn’t be done safely, even sedated. The horses were dewormed and vaccinated. And again, using photos each of the horse’s hooves were shown—before and after–farrier work. Most were excessively long, some had “slipper foot” or had “pancaked”. Some hooves were very badly chipped and some had nasty cracks. 4 horses of the 10 had to be sedated to be worked on, and 4 horses were shod to try to help support the damaged hooves.
The high point of the day were the “after” photos shown of these 10 seized horses now. They were round and shiny, standing well and after two days of horror, it was a balm to see actual photos of how hard Harmony has worked to help these horses. I don’t think I was the only one who wanted to applaud Mr. Leonard for the work he and his team had done.
As the judge informed the jurors, in a case like this it is up to the prosecutors to prove their case, and the defense is under no requirement to respond, or present witnesses. That is the practical reality of being innocent until proved guilty. At the end of the Asst. DA’s questioning, Mrs. Brunzell’s attorney, Mr. Bryant did cross examine each witness, by asking questions that didn’t doubt the testimony, so much as ask questions about the lack of signs of physical abuse, meaning abrasions, cuts, etc. In the case of the hoof condition, he asked about founder or laminitis, and no signs were there of those conditions. Perhaps his purpose was to plant the idea that the neglect could have been worse, it was hard to say.
Again today, Asst. DA Shannon Gerhart did a thorough job, horse by horse, of showing clearly to the jury the condition of each of the horses.
The last witness of the day was Dr. Frank, an expert Pathologist. Femur bones were sent to his lab to test for cause of death. These femurs were sectioned and at that point, bone marrow can be tested for % of fat content. His testimony was that there was no marrow and as such, they couldn’t identify the cause of death. No reason was given for why there was no marrow and this was a disappointing end for the day.
The trial continues at 8:30 tomorrow morning. Please come and join us if you can. Horse Advocates would like to kindly remind everyone that although this is a very emotional case, our actual judicial system is bound by rules. The Judge instructed the jury, and we pass it on, that it’s very different than Judge Judy and other television shows that are marketed as entertainment. We share your frustration with this process at times, but are looking forward to learning more facts through testimony as the trial convenes in the morning.
Thanks everyone, we sincerely appreciate your support, as well as your concern for these horses. There is some peace knowing that the horses have all gotten healthier, and we trust these good jurors to do their best.
Brunzell/Dual Peppy Animal Cruelty Trial: Day Three
Thursday, May 28th was a full day of expert testimony with the Prosecutors continuing their methodical laying out of their case against Mrs. Brunzell. The first testimony at 8:45, came from William French, DVM, an associate at Littleton Large Equine Center. He was called in to address the lameness issues on Dual Peppy. His left hind had visible chronic atrophy and after palpating the stifle area and doing a lameness check, along with x-rays and an ultrasound, the diagnosis was inflammation and scarring in the stifle joint, as well as severe arthritis. This kind of damage was consistent with the athletic work Dual Peppy competed at when he was younger. Dr. French gave a clear description of the physical condition and described it as “extremely painful.” Peppy was given systemic medication and a week later, stifle injections. On a later check up, significant improvement was reported and he will require committed ongoing treatment, but the condition is “guarded.”
The Defense cross examined briefly, questioning whether the lameness was current or long term, and whether it had gotten worse at Harmony.
At 9:10 testimony turned to the four llamas that were seized. Jamie Norris, assistant director of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region testified that she had been called to the Brunzell barn that Monday, Sept. 22nd. She reported the condition of the barn as filled with manure and again, she witnessed the carcasses of horses in the indoor arena as well as one of the stalls. She was called in to pick up the llamas and take them back to the Humane Society facility.
At 9:37 Signe Balch, DVM, testified about the condition of the llamas. She is a camelid vet that Mrs. Brunzell called in to check the llamas for physical damage after they had been moved to the Humane Society facility. Dr. Balch reported on each of the llamas, one by one, and most were between 5 and 7 years old, with one older at 9-10 years old. That older llama was the thinnest with a score of 2. Two other llamas were scored at 2 1/2 -3, and the final llama was body scored at 4, a good weight. She found no injuries but noted that they were hard to capture and check. She suggested a feeding program specific to llamas. Upon cross examination, she confirmed that the llamas were underweight, as the defense questioned her testimony.
At 10:22 Dr. Cribley, DVM, from Castle Rock Equine Practice took the stand. He was in charge of the intake evaluations when the ten seized horses arrived at Harmony Equine Center and he did their subsequent dental work. Again, one horse at a time, ages were evaluated and a check up given, along with fecal counts and vaccinations. All horses were subsequently dewormed. Again each condition was noted. He also included the dental results for each horse, listing the number of ulcers from sharp edges, as related to the tooth they were next to, for each of the horses. Each horse’s dental exam revealed mouth ulcers, with some having multiple ulcers, as well as sharp hooks, waves on the molar alignments, and displaced incisors. Some had ulcers next to each of the back molars that Dr. Cribley referred to as “significant and painful.” Each of the horses was in need of dental care and some had serious issues. One of the mares was very difficult to handle, and under mild sedation, leaped out of the restraining stocks and stumbled, landing on her chin, damaging a tooth. Her float was not completed, as Dr. Cribley felt it was too dangerous to continue, both to the mare and to the attending vet. Subsequent checkups showed all the horses to “look healthier and happier.” They had all gained weight and shed out to a shiny coat, and able to eat better. Dr. Cribley also stated that all the horses had significant problems with long and untrimmed hooves, with several estimated to have not received farrier attention or trimming for at least two years. Dr. Cribley is a vet with 44 years of experience.
The defense presented a Dept. of Agriculture study on worming published 17 years ago and quizzed Dr. Cribley on it. Dr. Cribley explained that worming protocol has changed significantly in the last 4 to 5 years, due to increased reporting of parasite resistance to worming medications. There was an exchange about worming, as 4 of the 10 horses came back with a positive parasite egg count after fecal testing. In the end, Dr. Cribley explained to the jury more about worming.
At 11:35, Jay Williams took the stand, a farrier with 22 year’s experience and the farrier that had done the hoof work on the Brunzell horses at Harmony Equine. We had seen the before-and-after photos on Wednesday, so the questions were more general about “slipper or elf” feet and neglect. He confirmed that, in his opinion, some of the horses hadn’t been trimmed in the last two years. He was questioned on the details of a few of the horses. He reported that Dual Peppy’s feet had been very recently trimmed, within a day or so of arriving at Harmony Equine Center. Coincidentally, this trimming happened after the sheriff’s deputies had made the initial visit on September 19th. He has now trimmed each of the horses three times since they arrived at Harmony and since it takes some time with these extreme cracks and length, etc, there had been time to do some repair gradually. In the beginning several had a difficult time walking, but he says they are all walking normally now. He stated that in his opinion as a professional farrier, “These horses were not getting appropriate hoof care.”
We returned from lunch and at 1:30 Holly Collela, DVM, took the stand. She had done some work for the Brunzells 8 to 12 years ago, but she had gotten numbers of calls from concerned people in the community asking if they could do anything to help in this situation. Dr. Colella had been active in organizing emergency response for horses during the Black Forest fire in the summer of 2013. Dr. Collela called Mrs. Brunzell and asked if they could come and make a welfare check, not in her capacity as a vet, but maybe get some hay to them or someone to help muck out the barn. Mrs. Brunzell agreed to the visit, but declined any help.
Dr. Colella testified as to the state of the barn, as each of the witnesses who had been there had in the past. Like the others, she described the large number of deceased horses, the huge amount of manure and poor condition of some of the horses. The descriptions of the barn were very consistent through all the witnesses. Dr. Colella mentioned a carcass in one stall with an attached outside run with a particularly disturbing appearance, as its legs appeared to be chewed off above the knees. She questioned Brunzell in a more personal way about how things got that way. Dr. Colella was concerned about the overall condition of the barn and the number of dead horses, as well as the thin horses. Brunzell told her that she had been busy, and that she did not have a tractor to remove the piled up manure.
This testimony/conversation was much harder to characterize; it was more of a personal account from someone who was actually there the day after the horses were discovered. After two days of clinical testimony, the tone was very different and the answers were not black and white. In cross examination, the defense asked if it was true that Dr. Colella said that she had seen horses in worse condition that Brunzell’s that the Sheriff’s office had not responded to in the past. Collella agreed that was true, but added that this in no way excused what was found at the Brunzell barn. In her testimony, she stated that “My feeling was that you bred them, you made them, and you should take care of them.”
At 2:15, Gail Peniak took the stand. She has been Dr. Colella’s vet tech for four years and had come on that same visit. She confirmed the same barn appearance and the conversation.
At 2:20 the Asst. DA, Shannon Gerhart said she rested her case and the defense called their first witness, Cheryl Glasgow, with the purpose of confirming the statement Dr. Colella made about seeing horses in worse condition. The attorneys were called to the bar and after consultation, the question was asked differently and the answer confirmed.
At 3pm Defense attorney Bryant called Sheri Brunzell to testify. She began by telling the jury that she was brought up with horses; that her father taught her and her brothers that their horses ate first; their care came first. The Defense counsel asked questions, but the testimony sometimes wandered as Brunzell said that she studied hoof care with an elite farrier and that her feeding system was working well. She did her own vet work. She’d had bad farriers and bad vets and she didn’t believe in floating teeth, and that “I have not seen a mandate that requires me to brush a horse, pick out his feet, or dispose of a carcass.” She stated that the dead horses had all coliced and died overnight, over the course of time, after originally telling Dr. Colella that they had all died of old age. She testified that she won’t euthanize a horse as a general rule, preferring instead to “let nature take its course.”
Frequently the Prosecution objected that there was no question that had been asked by the Defense counsel that was pertinent to the far-ranging discourse by Mrs. Brunzell. The Judge instructed the Defense counsel to ask a specific question, but the answers by Mrs. Brunzell soon veered away from the subject of the question. Eventually she disagreed with most of the expert testimony by the professional vets and farrier and had complaints about Dr. Parker and others. She felt that Dual Peppy had contracted laminitis while at Harmony and that was misdiagnosed as the stifle problem and she was very concerned for their health while in the care of Harmony. She acknowledged that it was unusual to have six stallions in a barn, but they didn’t pace and got along because of her feeding program. When questioned about the dead horses, she explained that they planned to eventually bury them, but that they didn’t have the heart to take the carcasses to the dump, and that with a tarp over them they decomposed quickly.
There was a testy cross examination as the Asst. DA asked when Mrs. Brunzell quit putting her horses first, as Mrs. Brunzell had stated at the beginning of her testimony that she had a ranching background and had been taught that “Horses got fed before we did.” The Prosecutor asked if Mrs. Brunzell went without food for two days- as her feeding program involved going to the barn every other day. Brunzell affirmed again that she disagreed with the experts. Brunzell said that her horses required shelter, food and water, but upon firm questioning, admitted that their comfort was “not a major concern.”
The jury was excused and the Judge gave directions for a meeting with the attorneys before beginning final arguments at 9:30 am, Friday. The case will be given to the jury after that.
Final Trial Report: The Brunzell/ Dual Peppy Trial, Day Four
Chief Deputy District Attorney Shannon Gerhart began her closing statement in the same methodical way she presented the case by first posting the cruelty statue by Powerpoint presentation and stressing the definition of neglect. She continued with a page summarizing the physical condition of each of the ten horses and four llamas, listing their foot condition, the dental issues and their weight gain while at Harmony. She repeated that they were not asking for a high standard of care, just the basic standards. She reminded the jury about Brunzell’s testimony, as well as her attitude that “she knows more than anyone else.” She repeated that the barn conditions were undisputed and asked the jury to follow the court instructions and find Brunzell guilty on all counts.
Defense attorney Andrew Bryant began by saying that none of the horses were that bad. That Deputy Murphy and Det. Boggs, the first on the scene told Brunzell only to get the horse’s feet taken care of and clean up the barn and not calling for the vet that Friday shows that the condition of the horses was not worrisome. He added that Brunzell had trimmed one or two of the horses by Monday and that proved her intent to comply. He held that the lameness Dual Peppy experienced at Harmony was as a result of getting him too fat. The intake evaluations at Harmony stated that all the horses check-ups showed clear eyes, ears, nose, and no sand in their guts. He summed it up by saying that all the horses were “healthier than the DA wants you to believe.”
The final summation was made by Asst. DA Ashley (apologizing for not getting her last name, she was a very valuable asset through the whole trial) gave an emotionally charged conclusion, saying that Brunzell had put her business on hold, and as such stopped caring for the horses. That just because they were no longer showing or selling to the public, the basic standards of care where still required. That the horses suffered, not having turn out and living in four feet of manure. She reminded the jury that one of the expert witnesses had sunk to her knee in wet manure trying to get the llamas out of their pen. She asked the jury to find Brunzell guilty on all charges.
The jury was given final instructions and left to begin deliberations just before 11 a.m. The verdict came in just before 6 p.m. and the judge read the results: Brunzell was found guilty on 8 changes of Animal Cruelty. She was found not guilty on two of the horses and the 4 llamas.
Press later reported that a juror said they considered whether Brunzell “got in over her head.” The financials, what Brunzell spent for these horses, or the income they brought her, were not disclosed in testimony.
The DA was happy with the verdict, and after spending the week watching, I concur. The jury focused on each witness, taking notes and asking good questions. I felt it was a huge loss that the lab tests done on the deceased horses had no results, and as such, no way to say how they died. I do believe that with the evidence available that the prosecution gave a very strong case. Brunzell had a good attorney as well. This is how our adversarial justice system works and it was valuable to follow that process through the course of the trial.
Sentencing will take place August 13th, at 10 am. At that point the judge will consider the evaluation ordered on Sheri Brunzell and sentence her. Until that time, the animals will remain in their respective locations and Brunzell will continue to pay for their monthly upkeep.