Prosecutor Reluctantly Drops Charges in Nevada Killing of Wild Horses
The U.S. attorney for Nevada conceded Thursday that the government failed to build a strong case against six rural Nevadans who escaped conviction on charges of taking or killing wild horses and burros.
“I think we underestimated the difficulty of proving these cases,” Bill Maddox said. “We didn’t do a very good job. I take all the blame.”
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben gave Maddox permission to drop charges against two remaining defendants in the well-publicized case that grew out of the suspected slaughter of 600 mustangs in central Nevada.
Earlier that day, McKibben had refused a request from attorneys for Dave Morehead and Shannon Brennan to dismiss the criminal indictment against the pair, clearing the way for an Aug. 8 trial.
But in a surprise move, Maddox personally took over the case from Assistant U.S. Atty. Will Mattley and asked McKibben to let him drop charges while leaving the door open for a possible new indictment later.
“This type of case needs to be handled like a homicide,” Maddox explained. “And with the information we had, that was too difficult.”
Morehead, 38, a foreman at the C-Punch Ranch 70 miles north of Lovelock, Nev., and ranch hand Brennan, 21, were charged with killing about 40 horses and burros. The charges are misdemeanor violations of the federal Wild, Free Roaming Horse and Burro Protection Act.
The original indictment was handed up in January after months of investigation after the discovery of the dead mustangs. The Bureau of Land Management believes the wild horses were slaughtered by rifle fire over a period of about two years.
Last week, a jury returned an innocent verdict favoring Betty Irwin, a 63-year-old California woman who is part-owner of the sprawling C-Punch Ranch.
Nearly a month ago, U.S. District Judge Edward Reed dismissed charges against Eugene (Skeeter) Thacker, a 27-year-old cowboy, and Ronald Hage, a 23-year-old miner. They were accused of killing five mustangs.