WEDNESDAY, April 8, 2015 – A Riverside County jury found a Murrieta-area woman guilty today (April 8) on 17 counts of animal cruelty for the neglect of horses in her care.
The cruelty case dates to September 2011 when Riverside County Animal Services officers seized 17 horses from a property in the unincorporated county community of La Cresta, just west of Murrieta. Animal Services filed the cruelty case with the District Attorney’s office seeking felony counts. The counts were reduced to misdemeanors prior to trial.
The trial included tearful testimony by at least one neighbor of the ranch-style property in what is known as an affluent horse community. Some residents had taken matters into their own hands during the ongoing neglect. They tossed bales of hay over the fence property line to try and provide some temporary nourishment.
Animal Services Sgt. Lesley Huennekens led the cruelty investigation for the county. She said the owner of the horses, Janice Deutsch, showed a continued pattern of neglect in respect to giving the horses a proper diet. Ms. Deutsch was ordered to get the horses’ weight back to normal on repeated occasions – and failed to do so, Sgt. Huennekens said.
At the time of seizure, all of the horses showed signs of neglect and were significantly underweight. Dr. Allan Drusys, Riverside County’s Chief Veterinarian, scored the horses as “2s” and “3s” on the Henneke Body Condition scale that ranges from 1 to 9. Such scores meant the horses were in deplorable condition, Dr. Drusys said.
During closing arguments, Ms. Deutsch’s defense attorney, Joshua Hanks, argued that the horses could have been suffering from some type of illness. He also told the jury that the county exaggerated the horse’s conditions and illustrated a strong bias against his client He also provided the jury images of past receipts for hay.
Deputy District Attorney Rosie Semnar argued to the jury in her rebuttal that “everyone knew what was going on – she was systematically starving those horses,” she said. “It was a chronic lack of feed.” Earlier, she presented the jury a slide-by- slide breakdown on a monitor, showing them photographs of each horse with exposed rib cages and protruding bones.
“She acted in a reckless way,” Ms. Semnar argued. “She acted indifferently to the consequences of her actions. A reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would result in harm.”
Ms. Deutsch, who is already in custody serving a multi-year sentence for a felony elder abuse conviction, is scheduled to be in court on Thursday (April 9) at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley for sentencing in the horse-cruelty case.
Animal Services is seeking approximately $200,000 in restitution for the boarding and care of the horses seized. The horses were placed in protective custody and were provided a balanced and nutritionally complete diet and recovered fully. The county cared for the horses for more than a year until the court ruled that the horses could be adopted or sent to rescue partners. Sixteen of the horses were adopted or rescued. One was claimed by a former business partner of Ms. Deutsch.