Weatherford Democrat

August 30, 2013

Woman gets jail in horse deaths

Caretaker for nine horses that died in heat of 2011 summer draws one-year confinement


Weatherford Democrat

— By CHRISTIN COYNE

One of two defendants in a case involving nine horses found dead or dying due to lack of water and nourishment on a property south of Weatherford in August 2011 was found guilty this week by a Parker County jury and received the maximum allowable sentence.

Caretaker Linda Pharis, 55, was convicted on nine misdemeanor charges of cruelty to livestock animals by a six-person jury.

County Court-At-Law Judge Ben Akers sentenced Pharis to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine on each conviction, the maximum sentence allowed by state law for the charges.

Akers ordered the jail sentences served concurrently and day for day, County Attorney John Forrest said. That means, minus her term previously spent in jail on the charges, Pharis will have to serve the full one-year term without accruing good-time credit and an early release.

“Judge Akers sent a message because she was not remorseful,” Forrest said.

The charges stem from the discovery of eight dead horses in a pasture in the 400 block of Old Brock Road on Aug. 12, 2011, after a neighbor alerted authorities.

Dr. Dene Herbel of Millsap Veterinary Clinic found the animals died due to lack of water and nutritional deficiency, according to the Parker County Sheriff’s Office.

One horse was reportedly found hanging on a fence, possibly caught while trying to get to a water-filled pool on the other side.

A ninth horse found alive on the property was euthanized due to organ failure and severe lack of habilitation.

The veterinarian estimated most of the horses had been dead one to three days when found.

Though there were troughs supplied by well water, they were dry and there was no vegetation in the pasture, according to court records.

The temperatures were above 100 degrees every day for more than a month and there had not been a recent rain, authorities noted at the time.

Owner Keith Hall, who was not in Weatherford at the time the horses were found, reportedly told investigators he did not feed the majority of the horses more than they grazed and that, though he had ample hay in his barn, he only put out hay in the winter months.

Pharis claimed she was not responsible for the horses at the time of their deaths, but the jury found that Pharis failed to make sure the animals had food and water.

Pharis also claimed she called Hall over several days before they were found dead and notified him of the horses’ worsening condition but he told her not to give them hay and that they would be OK until he returned to town. 

A tenth horse, 1990 National Cutting Horse Association Futurity Open Champion horse Millie Montana, was found in a stall nearby during the sheriff’s office investigation. After being evaluated by a veterinarian, Millie Montana was euthanized due to her health issues and pain impacting her quality of life.

Pharis originally accepted a plea deal in January 2012 that would have resulted in two years probation in exchange for pleading guilty to one charge cruelty to livestock animals.

Pharis was booked into the Parker County Jail Wednesday.

Hall faces eight class A misdemeanor charges of cruelty to livestock animals, as well as three possession of a dangerous drug charges, according to court records.