CEDAR CITY – The owner of Elsa, a horse so malnourished and neglected that she drew worldwide outrage, appeared in court Monday to face charges. Elsa was found emaciated and frozen to the ground in January, and later died despite heroic efforts to save her. She was one of two horses seized from an Enoch man who is now facing animal cruelty and related charges.
The public was allowed inside the courtroom to watch as the horses’ owner, Sonn Kent Berrett, of Enoch, met with Deputy Iron County Attorney II Candace Reid at the Iron County Justice Court to discuss the details of his charges and the future of his case.
Berrett was charged in early 2014 with four class B misdemeanors for cruelty to an animal and failure to obtain dog licensing; and two class B misdemeanors for failure to obtain rabies vaccinations.
After convening to a conference room located just outside of the courtroom, both parties returned to deliver the results of the conversation to Judge Brent Dunlap.
Reid told the judge that a resolution had been met in the case, but that she wanted Berrett to return at a later date to discuss the “entry of fee” and sentencing. Reid requested a late February 2015 date, but the court calendar is full until late March 2015, so the case was continued until then.
Monday’s status hearing drew a smaller crowd than a similar court appearance on Oct. 29, but Elsa’s supporters still filled nearly half of the courtroom.
When the undernourished and neglected horses were removed from Berrett’s custody and moved to the Dust Devil Ranch Sanctuary for Horses, they were both nearly 300 pounds underweight and in very poor health, Dust Devil Ranch founder Ginger Grimes said.
One horse, Anna, began to recover quickly, and is now doing well, Grimes said, but Elsa, who was found lying down and frozen to the ground, was in much poorer shape than her mother. Elsa lost hair and patches of skin from being frozen to the ground, and also had damage to her lip, teeth, gums and one eye, Grimes said.
When the horses were removed from Berrett’s property, Iron County Animal Control Officer Chris Johnson said that Elsa’s body temperature was 92 degrees. A healthy horse should have a temperature between 99 and 100 degrees, she said.
Volunteers rallied around the young horse, holding vigil at her side 24 hours a day. Elsa died on Jan. 18. The death was reported to thousands of supporters who had been following Elsa’s story on Dust Devil Ranch’s Facebook.
After Monday’s decision to continue the Berrett case for sentencing and entry of fees was announced, Grimes said she did not feel that justice was being served. It is frustrating to have nothing final to walk out of the door with, she said.
According to court documents, Berrett’s father called the court early Monday to ask if getting a public defender was still an option. The document states that he was told the request would have to be made at the status hearing, and that there would have to be a hearing to determine if Berrett would qualify for a public defender.
Though Reid said that the case had reached a resolution, no details about that resolution were discussed in open court, and no mention of a defense attorney was made. Each class B misdemeanor could carry a sentence of up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
Horse owner Lisa Pedersen said that she had little confidence this case would yield any results that would honor the suffering Elsa endured. The law is not set up that way in the state of Utah, she said, but she hopes Elsa’s case will help to enact change.
“You can’t blame local law enforcement, you can’t blame local animal control, you can’t blame even the county attorney who seems to be kind of refusing to push this one forward,” Pedersen said. “What it stems from is weak Utah law for animal abuse.”
Working to make Utah laws stronger for cases of animal abuse is a long-term goal, Pedersen said. Until laws change, she said, cases of severe cruelty and neglect will only be subject to a misdemeanor violation carrying little more than a “slap-on-the-wrist fine.”
After the status hearing Monday, Berrett was escorted out of the front door to the court building and to the parking lot by a court bailiff. After the Oct. 29 hearing, the lobby was full of Elsa supporters, and Berrett was taken out the back of the courthouse.
When approached by St. George News, Berrett declined to comment.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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