Forty two horses seized from a King William horse rescue will be returned to the farm's owner while she awaits trial for animal cruelty, King William Commonwealth's Attorney Matthew Kite said.
During a county appeal in the King William Circuit Court Thursday morning, Judge B. Elliot Bondurant ordered 42 horses to be returned to New Beginnings Horse Rescue owner, Cassy Newell-Reed, while she awaits an Aug. 4 trial date.
"The county strongly objected to this order, however the court overruled the objection," Kite wrote in an email Thursday morning. "While we respect the decision and obviously will follow the order, we clearly disagree with it."
The appeal delayed the return of the horses to Newell-Reed, but Bondurant mirrored the first decision in circuit court Thursday morning, three weeks after the first hearing.
The Animal Control Office has 48 hours from the time of the ruling to return the horses to Newell-Reed, Kite said.
Two sheriff's deputies, an animal control officer and a veterinarian examined 19 of the horses, kept at Aria Farm, Thursday afternoon to determine whether it was safe to transport them back to New Beginnings Horse Rescue, in Aylett in Thursday's heat.
The heat index rose to about 106 degrees Thursday afternoon, with a heat advisory in effect for the Virginia Peninsula, Middle Peninsula and other parts of the state, according to the National Weather Service.
Kite said the Animal Control Office and his office requested that a licensed veterinarian be present during the move to ensure the horses were transported safely.
A sheriff's department vehicle, the veterinarian's truck, an animal control truck and a truck with a horse trailer were parked near a barn at Aria Farm while the veterinarian checked each horse.
The veterinarian finished examining the 19 horses at Aria Farm around 4 p.m., and left to examine some of the other horses, which are being kept at an undisclosed location.
Around 5 p.m., an administrator on the New Beginnings Facebook page posted a status that said "the horses are currently being unloaded right this minute."
“We are very happy they are back,” she said. “Every horse on this property is here for a reason. I have the funds and financial stability to take care of these horses, and that’s what we do.”
The decision came after an initial seizure hearing in the district court on June 21, when a judge ordered the horses to be returned to New Beginnings. The county appealed the decision to circuit court on June 23, according to the Virginia court case information database.
During the June 21 seizure hearing, a judge determined there was not enough evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the horses had been abandoned, cruelly treated or provided with inadequate care, Kite said.
Proving something "beyond a reasonable doubt" is the highest standard of proof in law, and is the standard required for seizure hearings and other animal-related statutes. In comparison, the standard for terminating parental rights to a child is "clear and convincing," which is a lesser standard than beyond a reasonable doubt, Kite said.
The ruling meant that the horses would be returned to Newell-Reed's farm while she awaits trial for three counts of animal cruelty. In a seizure hearing, a court decides whether the animals will be possessed by the county, or the animals' owner before the trial begins.
The horses were seized from New Beginnings, in Aylett, on June 8 after deputies received multiple complaints about malnourished and unhealthy horses at the farm.
Newell-Reed is charged with three counts of animal cruelty, a class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Newell-Reed is scheduled to appear in the King William District Court on Aug. 4, according to King William District Court Records.
To report animal abuse or neglect of any kind, contact the King William Animal Control Office at 804-769-4963.
Fearing can be reached at 757-298-5838.