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Sharpsburg former horse owner goes back to court

October 17, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - A 62-year-old former Sharpsburg woman who kept malnourished, injured and worm-infested horses on her Washington County farm is now homeless, suffers severe depression and sleeps in her car in a Wal-Mart parking lot, her attorney told a judge Tuesday.

Barbara Perry Reinken was in court to ask Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long to modify her sentence.

Reinken has tried to move to North Carolina, where she has a home, but she encountered difficulty having her probation supervised by North Carolina authorities, according to her defense attorney Edward Button.

She entered an Alford plea in April to one felony count of animal cruelty and was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. She received additional 90-day consecutive sentences for 10 misdemeanor counts of animal neglect.

Under an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to gain a conviction.

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The prison sentence was suspended and she was placed on five years of probation to be supervised by the Department of Social Services. As part of her probation, Reinken must refrain from the care of animals, excluding dogs and cats, and seek mental health treatment.

North Carolina authorities denied a petition asking them to take over Reinken's supervision, citing an instance in which Reinken told a North Carolina probation agent that she was not on supervised probation, Button said.

Reinken was told she must return to Maryland until the issue with her supervision is worked out, and she has stayed in Washington County, without food and sleeping in her car, since then, he said.

Another application has been submitted to North Carolina authorities, but Button was unsure of its status Tuesday morning, he said.

Reinken is unable to find employment in the area, Button said.

"No one will hire her," he said.

Reinken's case incurred far more publicity than most criminal cases, including murder trials, in Washington County, he said.

Reinken is recognized in public and has been ridiculed, for which Button blamed publicity surrounding the case.

Button asked that Long modify Reinken's sentence to unsupervised probation, keeping the other terms of the probation.

Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael called Reinken's situation an "animal hoarding" case. If Reinken isn't treated and supervised, the hoarding will happen again, he said.

Reinken said she has seen three mental health professionals and all agree that her only problem is severe depression, not a hoarding disorder.

"People who use that term have no idea what hoarding is and are ignorant," she said.

Her depression was brought on by "what was done to me and my animals Dec. 2," she said.

The Humane Society investigated conditions at Reinken's farm between Dec. 2 and 5, 2006.

Officials seized 75 horses, miniature horses and donkeys from the farm in December 2006. Four horses were euthanized and one died in transit, according to court records. Under the April plea agreement, Reinken relinquished the animals to the Humane Society.

Reinken said she had been hounded, tormented and "brutalized in this county by the press, by Mr. Miller."

Paul Miller is executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County.

Michael cooperated with the defense in an effort to keep publicity to a minimum for Tuesday's hearing, he said.

Michael said the case had turned into a "media circus," and the defense had lodged complaints about a lot of undue publicity from parties far and wide, he said. Local media outlets were not the issue, Michael said.

Miller was in court Tuesday, where he said about 40 of the horses seized have been adopted.

Long set another hearing on the modification issue for Dec. 6 and suspended the supervision aspect of Reinken's probation pending that hearing, he said.

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