Animal cruelty suspect enters not guilty plea, protesters gather outside courthouse

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Shania Wells is charged with ten misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, for the deaths of cows, horses and turkeys that allegedly died from lack of food and water.

Wells’ attorney entered a not guilty plea on her behalf, so it was unnecessary for her to appear in Western Division Court — but that didn’t stop a protest outside the court building.

Participants carried signs saying “no excuse for animal abuse” and “I support maximum penalty for animal abuse.”

“Whoever abuses animals, something has to be done with them,” said Debbie Brownfield, one of the protesters.

Judge Eric Costine agreed to speak to 7News about the protest. He said people sometimes expect justice to be instant.

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” he noted. “It takes some time.”

He said if they are angry about the fact that Wells entered a plea and avoided the need to appear in court, that happens quite often.

“I want to assure everybody that that is a routine matter,” Judge Costine said.

Outside on the sidewalk, the protesters said Shania Wells has been in trouble for animal abuse in the past.

Julie Larish acknowledged that farming is hard.

“There are times you get in over your head,” she noted. “There are times you stumble and you fall, as a farmer, as a person. But this family has been in court three times!”

She said Wells’ animals “died a horrible death.”

Larish said Wells had been court-ordered previously to own no animals.

“They just had that (order) lifted in September, and three months later, we have a bunch more dead animals!” Larish said.

The good news is that some animals survived and were taken away from Wells’ farm, and are now doing much better.

Larish said six cows were ravenous, “were eating non-stop” for the first few days, and the horses are also improving and the guinea hens are doing very well.

She hopes that Wells will not be allowed to get those animals back, and also that she’ll be prohibited from owning animals for a longer period of time.

“The least we’re hoping is five years,” Larish said. “That would give her time to clean up, get her act together, whatever, and then we’ll see from there. The ultimate goal would be no animals for repeat offenders, ever.”

The judge said there will be at least one pre-trial hearing before the case comes to trial or is resolved by a plea.

He said this process may seem slow, but it is deliberate and thorough with two goals in mind.

“To protect individuals’ rights, but at the same time, to protect the rights of animals,” Judge Costine said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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