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Restitution hearing postponed for woman in mistreatment of more than 50 horses and two cows

Berkeley County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Richard Stephens needed more time to get figures

January 26, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A restitution hearing was postponed again Wednesday for a Berkeley County woman who pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in October 2010 for the mistreatment of more than 50 horses and two cows.

Mary O'Brien, 37, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty and was fined $1,000 in October. She still could be ordered to pay thousands of dollars in restitution stemming from the care that officials said was provided to keep the animals alive.

Found malnourished and with little to eat or drink at Hidden Meadows Equine Rescue Inc., the horses and cows were seized Sept. 11 from O'Brien's nonprofit operation at 227 Edward Drive.

Area residents donated thousands of dollars in feed, medication and other supplies to help Berkeley County Animal Control officers rescue and find new homes for the animals, but at least one bill submitted to the county for payment by a veterinarian who examined and treated the animals exceeded $20,000, according to county records.

Berkeley County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Richard Stephens said Wednesday he had not been provided a final restitution amount for the hearing.

"I'm not sure where the numbers are," Stephens said.

Berkeley County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Myers and county animal control officers who investigated the case did not attend Wednesday's hearing.

Sheriff Kenneth M. Lemaster Jr. said Wednesday night that Myers had discussed the case with him, and he was under the impression that the deputy was planning to attend the hearing.

"There's a lot of (monetary) figures involved," said Lemaster, who did not know what amount of restitution Myers was seeking.

Myers could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

In court on Wednesday, Berkeley County Magistrate Joan V. Bragg agreed to give Stephens more time to obtain the restitution figures, postponing the restitution hearing for a second time Wednesday over the objection of Chief Public Defender Deborah A. Lawson.

Lawson argued that the state already had ample time to prepare for the hearing, which was previously scheduled in December.

When Bragg asked O'Brien where the court should send notification of a new hearing date, O'Brien provided a Hedgesville-area address off Oak Grove School Road.

O'Brien had been charged with 56 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, and the plea agreement triggered a rally outside the Berkeley County Judicial Center by people who were angered and disappointed with the outcome.  

Myers was among those angered by the agreement, which was reached before he arrived for the hearing.

Stephens said Wednesday he was handling the case in the absence of Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kim Crockett, who recently began working for the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Crockett had defended the resolution of the O'Brien case as consistent, if not more stringent, than the outcome of other animal cruelty cases because O'Brien served several days in jail.

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