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Morgan couple charged with animal cruelty

October 16, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - A Berkeley Springs couple was sentenced to 150 days in jail after being convicted Wednesday in Morgan Magistrate Court on 40 counts each of cruelty to animals.

John and Nancy Talbert, of Fairview Road, were given 150 days on each count to be served concurrently, but remain free pending appeal of the sentence. The couple was also ordered to pay court costs of more than $3,000 apiece, according to Morgan County Prosecuting Attorney David Savasten.

"It seems a little harsh," defense attorney Jerome Dambro said of the sentence handed down by State Magistrate Greg Miller. He said he plans to file a notice of appeal within 20 days.

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The Talberts were charged with animal cruelty after humane society officers and a sheriff's deputy went to the house June 12. They had received complaints from a neighbor about the smell, according to court records. Inside the house they found a dozen dogs, 18 birds and 11 cats.

"I think the Humane Society saved all but one of the cats," Savasten said after the trial.

Another cat was found dead in the sunroom of the brick rancher, he said. Several of the other cats appeared to be suffering from respiratory illnesses at the time they were confiscated.

Following the trial, Savasten said that animal waste on the floor "was six inches deep." There were also several hundred bags of garbage in the house, according to court records.

Dambro said Miller waived any fines in the case, but noted the high court costs and "the Humane Society is eventually going to be sending them a bill, which will be very, very high."

The public defender said he saw one bill for two weeks of care at the animal shelter that was about $12,000. "They were spending more for the care of a bird than you would for a baby," he said.

The trial began Tuesday and included testimony from the humane society officers and four veterinarians, the prosecutor said. Three of the veterinarians testified for the prosecution that the environment was unhealthy for the animals, he said.

John Talbert testified in his own defense that the animals were well-fed and cared for, but "the jury obviously didn't believe him," Dambro said. The attorney said he believed the prosecution's case was not so much about animal cruelty, but the condition of the house in which they lived.

Evidence in the case included a videotape authorities took of the inside of the home, according to Dambro.

The Talberts fed the birds dog food, as well as their canines, according to Savasten. He added, however, that the veterinarians agreed that was not particularly harmful to the birds.

"There was no testimony that harm was done to each and every animal," Dambro said. He said the six-member jury could not have considered each count individually during their hour-long deliberations and instead issued what he called a "blanket verdict."

"If they had gone to the house, talked to the people and given them a warning, this trial might not have happened," Dambro said of the action taken against hs clients.

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