[UPDATE] Controversial Horse Abuse Case Goes to Trial

By: Tara Herrschaft, La'Tasha Givens Email
By: Tara Herrschaft, La'Tasha Givens Email

Updated by La'Tasha Givens

The controversial horse trial ended Thursday, but it's still the talk of the town.

"Many people can't believe that someone would be going on trial in this day and time for a horse that didn't belong to Mr. Hawkins," says John Battles.

Community activist Sam Palmer says, "I think there never should have been a horse trial."

"Some of the rumors in that are out there are incorrect the county did not encourage this investigation, says Gadsden County Representative Charles Chapman.

Samuel Hawkins was charged with animal cruelty when a starving horse he was asked to care for had to be euthanized. Hawkins was acquitted after a day and a half trial because the judge ruled the prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence.

Many residents say they believe the case was politically motivated because Hawkins filed an ethics complaint against some county commissioners and there has been ongoing disputes with Hawkin's fiancé Brenda Holt who is also a commissioner.

We spoke to animal activists who say they believe the starving horse still did not get justice. Others think prosecutors should not have not have pursued a case against Hawkins, but instead the horse's owner.

"I think it was a waste of the tax payer money."
"We don't have that kind of money to waste on foolishness and that's what this is."
WCTV requested the court cost for the trial and clerk of court officials told us the trial did not cost any more than a typical trial on the docket.

Clerk of Court officials also told us the cost argument is not valid because the courtroom staff, including the judge, bailiff and court reporter, would have been present for any trial on the docket. They also says n o witness had to be brought in for the trial.

[UPDATE] 2-10 12:20PM --

The judge has acquitted Samuel Hawkins in the Gadsden County animal cruelty case. The judge says the prosecution could not determine a baseline to move forward. He said they did not have enough evidence to even more forward with the trial.

Stay with WCTV for details.


[UPDATE] 2-10 Noon --

It's day two of a controversial animal cruelty case in Gadsden County, involving a starving horse.

The case started back in 2009, when residents spotted the starving horse on County Commissioner Brenda Holt's property.

Holt's fiance' Samuel Hawkins was taking care of the horse when the complaints started coming in. The horse was then dropped off to animal control and had to be euthanized. The prosecution is arguing the horse died because of Hawkins' improper care for the animal.
But the defense says the horse was old and sickly when an associate asked Hawkins to take care of it.

This morning before the jury was allowed to enter the courtroom, the defense filed a motion for a mistrial. That's because of a letter County Commissioner Doug Crowley sent to the judge yesterday. The judge said he stopped reading the letter once he realized the letter was from Crowley and gave a copies to the attorneys for both sides.

The defense says the letter was threatening to the judge, but the prosecution argued the letter didn't warrant a mistrial. The judge then denied the motion for a mistrial. The defense then posed a new argument for a mistrial, saying the prosecution could not prove Samuel Hawkins was intentionally cruel to the horse. The prosecution then brought up other cases that they say supports a conviction in this case. The judge then went into his chamber for about 45 minutes to decide how he would proceed.

We don't know what the letter says, but the judge says the letter will be available to the public in the clerk of courts office soon.

We will keep you updated on the very latest in this case and post the letter on our website when it's available.


[UPDATE] 2-10 9:50AM --

Word had spread about the email, and now the courtroom is filling up.


[UPDATE] 2-10 9:20AM --

The defense is asking for a mistrial because of an email Commissioner Crowley sent to the judge. It is not know what the email said, but the defense is very upset about it.

A motion for a mistrial is denied. The judge stopped reading the letter once he knew what it was. The defense says the letter threatened the judge.

WCTV has a reporter in court. Stay with WCTV for details.


[UPDATE] 2-8 2:45PM --

The defense is trying to have animal scientist Dr. Scott Richards expert opinion thrown out because they can't verify if the horse tissue samples from lab are the same as the horse in question.


[UPDATE] 2-8 Noon --

Sam Hawkins is accused of abusing a horse that was boarding on Gadsden County Commissioner Brenda Holt's property.

Hawkins is Holt's fiance ... and Commissioner Holt claims the two were unaware of the horse's condition because they agreed to keep it for a friend and were out of town when he dropped the horse off.

In opening statements, the prosecution showed the jury pictures of the starving horse. Holt says the accusations are politically motivated because commissioners and the county manager called deputies to report the abused horse while she was running for re-election.
We'll have much more from the courtroom later tonight on Eyewitness news.


[UPDATE] 2-8 10:45AM --

First prosecution witness Bob Roqueplot takes the stand, then state witness GCSO deputy Tamara McSwain takes the stand.


[UPDATE] 2-8 9:45AM --

In opening statements, the prosecution shows the jury pictures of the starving horse. The defense is very upset by this. The prosecution did not tell the defense that they would use the pictures in court. The jury is asked to leave while this issue is discussed.


[UPDATE] 2-8 9:33AM --

7 jurors just sworn in and given instructions, including the one with a DUI.


[UPDATE] 2-8 9:00AM --

Before the jury enter, the defense tries to get allegations of Hawkins horse getting out in 2008, a horse dying on his property, necropsy photos, thrown out of the trial.

One juror has a current DUI charge, and they may be taken off the trial.


Updated by La'Tasha Givens 2/3

The case of a Gadsden County man accused of abusing a horse is now going to trial.

At a hearing today, a judge ruled Sam Hawkins will stand trial for animal cruelty.

Hawkins is accused of abusing a horse boarding on Gadsden County Commissioner Brenda Holt's property. Hawkin's is Holt's fiance'.

Commissioner Holt claims the two were unaware of the horse's condition because they agreed to keep it for a friend and were out of town when he dropped the horse off.

Holt says the accusations are politically motivated. "We're hoping that the judge will be able to see that this is selective prosecution and it was initiated by some of my fellow county commissioners and county manager," says Holt.

Holt says the commissioners and county manager called deputies to report the abused horse while she was running for re-election.


Veterinary reports say neglect or cruelty caused a Gadsden County horse to become emaciated in a pasture and now the county administrator plans to prosecute the owner.

But there is good news, "Horse Hope" as she is now being called, has put on 50 pounds in the past week since it was dropped off at the animal shelter.

Folks in Gadsden county started calling animal control when they saw the horses bones sticking out and then the horse was anonymously taken to the animal shelter.

Shelter workers say donations have poured in from folks in the community including hay, horse feed and blankets.

County administrator Johnnie Williams says they are still investigating but intend to press charges against the owner when they figure out who is responsible.


Authorities have named her "Horse A." She was found abandoned at the Gadsden County animal shelter. Now those who've heard about her condition are checking up on the sick horse, making sure she's taken care of.

"I was really shocked. I was amazed that this horse was right down the road and I didn't even know about it and it was looking this bad," said Mallory Creel, who saw a picture of Horse A on facebook after it was posted by one of her neighbors.

The horse was found roaming on property owned by County Commissioner Brenda Holt. She says the horse isn't hers. "A young lady was out here, she said about one of the horses conditions, and I told her, I said I think that that horse was here because the person was trying to get them back into shape. It was someone else's horse. But I lease the property out, I don't manage the property," explained Holt.

Holt says she's been leasing the 32 acre property to Sam Hawkins for several years. Hawkins who's now her fiance, says he uses the property to nurse abused animals back to health. A donkey and another horse named Sugarfoot are his, but were in poor shape when he got them. About two months ago Hawkins says he got a call from a friend who needed a place to keep Horse A.

Hawkins agreed, but says he told his friend to take care of her. "I've been doing what I can for the horse to get him back in good shape, get him on his feet, but it's not my responsibility. But I feed mine, I feed them all," explained Hawkins.

Now he's upset that fingers are pointing to him for causing this horses condition. "I contacted the gentlemen who brought the horse. I said everybody's hollering about abuse. Come get the horse take him down to the vet and have the animal taken care of or have him put to sleep. Because I'm trying to do the best I can to help you with this horse. It's not even my horse. So he took the horse to the shelter," said Hawkins.

Animal control officials tell me the horse is about 25 years-old, which is considered an old horse. They're investigating to see if Horse A's poor nutrition is because of neglect or disease.

Authorities are awaiting word from the vet's office to see if the horse was neglected. If that is the case, then they will move forward in the investigation.

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  • by Anonymous on Feb 23, 2011 at 07:42 AM
    If any politicians were involed in perpetuating the spending of public funding on this non sense they need to step down. They had a duty to protect our funding, not to prosecute a case and you deliberately ignored your obligation to us, the tax payers. Brenda if you have evidence that the politician's were in this let see it. It stated they called the sherriff's office. Do you know that for a fact or is it just a suspicion? Is there a recording of the call? What did crowley E-Mail state? Did you know for a fact it stated something bad or is it just a suspicion. I am not saying your supicions are unfounded. I am saying if they are supspions and not fact you need to state that or you are going to loose your creditability? If is supicion, say that. It is ok. It will not hurt your crediability, people will still belive you, but they will not continue to belive you if you don't be specific about what is supicion and what is fact
  • by Stop it and where is Crowley's letter publish it on Feb 23, 2011 at 07:28 AM
    If you have fed that horse, you would not have the notoriety you have, but you would have an animal that was sill alive. The notoriety was more important to you. Your ego, your sense of self importance, cost community funding to the point county worker lost their job and you are completely obvious to the damage you have caused or you tell your self I am just some barefoot, daisy loving democrat liberal who doesn’t know what she is talking about. When the truth of the matter is I am a white republican who is telling a fellow republican you are a disgrace to this party , get out.
  • by Stop it. on Feb 23, 2011 at 04:23 AM
    The neighbor that posted this on face book, perpetuated a case that in the end ended up costing 59 county school employees their job due to lack of funding. That act was much more damming to the community and their children then tending to a starving a horse. That is what meanness does. Stop it. If they were white people, you would not have done this and I am a white republican person stating that. How many of those people that lost their jobs, ended up loosing their homes, loosing their marriage committing suicide. What you did was unbelievable horrible and it was not done out of concern for the horse it was done out of hate. You are the one that should be prosecuted or at least charged for slander. You are an unbelievably manipulate women and I am glad they show you on tv so you are held accountable. Your actions cost people their jobs and many have not been able to find another one.
  • by To The Truth. on Feb 22, 2011 at 05:34 PM
    I didn't know that. Mathis, who? What his full name? again why all the secreacy? Where does he live. What was his relation to Holt? and does he confirm that the horse is his or does he deny it?
  • by The-Truth on Feb 21, 2011 at 04:26 PM
    There is no mystery as to who owned this horse. Mathis owned the horse and everyone (including law enforcement) knew that.
  • by "TO THE TRUTH", on Feb 21, 2011 at 08:22 AM
    Who is this mysterious owner? What is the big secreat? None of these people gave a darn about that horse. If they did they would have bought him a 5.oo bale of hay and fed him. 59 school officials were laid off after this case started due to "lack Of Funding. We did not and do not have the money for this. Your personal wars are costing county employees thier jobs and livelyhoods. Stop it. Doug if the clerk of court does not release your letter to the Media, you should. It is more damming to you not too. To the rest of you in office, when you send a letter to the court go ahead and cc it to the media. Other wise you are going to be painted as someone trying to do something underhanded when it very well might not be the case. Learn to politic better
  • by I am On your side, you don't need to lie on Feb 21, 2011 at 08:05 AM
    The truth, it hard to believe what is stated as "the truth" when you will not tell who this supposed mystery other owner it. There no other owner is there? It was his horse, just say that. I still will be on the side that community money should not be spent on this.
  • by Cows Rule Location: Lovett, FL on Feb 17, 2011 at 11:49 AM
    Well I guess it was the horses fault according to these South ends of a North bound horse.
  • by Jean Location: Quincy on Feb 17, 2011 at 08:15 AM
    I thank God that the horse is not in pain. Also that a man is not put in DC for a crime he did not commit. From what I heard Mr. Hawkins only wrong was trying to help a friend. The whole situation looks very one sided.
  • by Justice Location: Quincy on Feb 17, 2011 at 07:57 AM
    For those of you that have been following this case, you should know we do not put our elderly people to sleep. That is up to GOD. Did any of you ask the horse what she wanted? The horse was standing on Sam and Brenda property eating grass looking at the deputy, Holt, and some lady just before she was taken back to Mathis. Maybe some of you good people should have told the horse that you wanted to kill her. Or go to the hospital and kill all the elderly people that are under weight no matter how much they eat. GOD has the last say so not man!
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