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Published: Saturday, 5/1/2010

Woman convicted of cruelty to horses

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

PORT CLINTON - Robin Vess sat quietly as 42 separate guilty verdicts were announced Friday afternoon in Ottawa County Municipal Court.

But when the court adjourned for the day, the Oak Harbor woman convicted of cruelty to animals for failing to feed and properly care for her horses broke her silence.

Ms. Vess denied she abused her horses - humane agents removed 36 of them from her farm - and said she did not starve them.

"I thought that was a really bad use of the word," she said. "I had somebody there feeding them, taking care of them. I was ill myself."

Ms. Vess, 55, said she ulti-

mately was hospitalized for depression but said she wasn't too sick to care about her horses - a passion of hers since she got her first horse at age 19.

"I cared. I cared," she said. "I thought they were taken care of."

An eight-person jury deliberated nearly 3 1/2 hours before returning its 42 verdicts - one for each count of cruelty to animals levied against Ms. Vess. Each is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $750.

Andrew Bigler, an assistant Ottawa County prosecutor, said Ohio law only permits a maximum jail sentence of 18 months because all of the charges are misdemeanors.

Judge Frederick Hany scheduled sentencing for June 4 and denied Mr. Bigler's request to have Ms. Vess post a $42,000 bond to ensure her appearance at her sentencing.

The judge instead ordered that she report every Monday morning to the probation department, verify her whereabouts once a day by telephone with the probation department, resume mental health counseling, and not possess any horses.

"If you violate any of these conditions, Ms. Vess, your bond will be revoked and you will be put in the detention center until sentencing," Judge Hany said.

The Humane Society of Ottawa County raided Ms. Vess' Carroll Township farm Jan. 29 after receiving an anonymous tip that the horses were malnourished and in poor condition.

Ms. Vess, who founded the Arabian Horse Club of Greater Toledo, did not take the stand in her defense, but her attorney Mark Davis contended throughout the four-day trial that the horses became thin because of medical reasons. He said in his closing argument that prosecutors provided no solid evidence of the crime and failed to connect the horses' condition to something Ms. Vess did.

"There's no proof that just because you have a skinny horse that Robin failed to feed them," he said.

Ms. Vess hugged Mr. Davis after the hearing ended. He said he was shocked by the verdict.

"It's a sad ending to a sad chapter in Robin Vess' life," Mr. Davis said, adding that he and his client would decide after sentencing whether to appeal the jury's verdict.

Mr. Bigley said he took no pleasure in the finding of guilt.

"The verdict is what it is," he said. "The jury decided we established our case beyond a reasonable doubt. We're satisfied the process worked the way it did."

Speaking to reporters after the trial, Ms. Vess said she could not explain why some of her horses had become so thin. She said a worker took care of the horses for her when she couldn't.

"About two weeks before [the raid] we walked through the barn and I told him, I said, 'Some of these horses are too thin and you feed them three times a day' and he did," she said. "We ordered more hay. I got loans from people. I was trying to do everything I could to keep them at normal weight, and anybody who knows me for all these years with horses, if you told them that this happened, they probably would never believe it."

Ms. Vess said her problems began with the deaths of several significant people in her life. Her late aunt had been her business partner with the horses, she said, and her late mother, who lived with her, shared living expenses.

"Then it all fell on me. I had money, but I lost money in the market, and it just seems like everything crashed at once. It was just circumstances," Ms. Vess said. "Never would I do anything intentional to hurt my animals, and anyone who knows me, who knows me personally, would tell you that."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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