CANFIELD, Ohio – Eleven horses are being hauled back to Canfield this week after Thomas Skelton, the horseman who owned or boarded the animals and had been charged with animal cruelty, reached a plea agreement in court.
Skelton appeared in Canfield Area Court June 15 to accept the plea agreement laid out by his attorney and the Mahoning County prosecutor.
The 11 horses taken from the farm – two of which were Skelton’s own and nine that were boarded there – had been in foster care since sheriff’s deputies, a veterinarian and volunteers raided the Raccoon Road farm and took them in October 2006.
Two other horses taken from the farm were euthanized.
In the plea agreement, the state dismissed 13 counts of cruelty against Skelton for providing insufficient “quantity of good wholesome food or water” and 11 counts for denying “wholesome exercise and change of air” as spelled out in the Ohio Revised Code animal cruelty statute.
Skelton pleaded on two counts of denying exercise and change of air.
During the court appearance, Skelton withdrew his previous not guilty plea in exchange for a no contest plea on those two charges.
Judge Scott Hunter handed Skelton a $100 fine plus court costs, a 45-day suspended jail sentence and 24 months probation.
He also ordered Skelton to pay partial restitution to volunteers who boarded the horses during the investigation.
Skelton said the state had originally wanted him to pay $16,000 for the foster care, and he offered a lower settlement. Court records show Skelton posted $4,386 in restitution June 15.
Skelton said the horses were boarded in Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull counties during the investigation.
He also said the horses’ return trip to his farm was at the county’s expense.
Kimberly Culler of Lisbon, who is listed as the complainant in court documents, said she’s “ticked off” they’re returning the horses to Skelton.
“He got out of a lot of stuff, and the restitution is not near enough for what we were put through,” Culler said, noting she’s paid roughly $5,000 for board, feed, hay, and veterinary care for the three horses she’s been caring for since October.
In addition, she has expenses for 11 of her own horses on her Lisbon-area farm.
Culler, who said she was only inside Skelton’s barn once before making the complaint that led sheriff’s deputies and volunteers to take the horses from the farm, admitted she became attached to two of the horses she’d been keeping and didn’t want to send them back.
“He’s getting off pretty good, really cheap, and he gets the horses back on top of it,” she said.
“I hope this teaches [Skelton] a lesson, and hope that he’s learned to become a more responsible owner now.”
Skelton, who said the giant cloud that’s hung over him since the October 2006 raid on his farm and the ensuing investigation hasn’t yet lifted, is working with attorney James Messenger to “seriously consider” pursuing civil action against some of his accusers.
“I don’t want my life to be defined by this event,” he said.
Skelton is also manager of the New Wilmington Livestock Auction in New Wilmington, Pa.
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