This story can't get any more twisted: convicted horse abuser James Gray walked out of a sentencing hearing in England and is on the run. In the end, his sentence was far lighter than one handed down the same day to American Thoroughbred "neglecter" Ernie Paragallo. In two different countries, under two different legal systems, two remarkably similarly arrogant men scoffed at the law and the plight of the helpless animals in their care. I hope the sentences in these cases get a lot of publicity and deter anyone from causing animals to suffer. You may get much more than a slap on the wrist.
May 18, 2010 was some sort of a vortex on the calendar of equine cruelty. On two sides of the Atlantic, like bookends, the perpetrators of two notorious and much-publicized cases of cruelty to horses came up for sentencing. In both cases, the defendants had been found guilty. What remained to be seen was what jail time, if any, and what fines would be levied by the courts. In the British case, the defendant was pursuing an appeal to avoid going to jail.
And the results couldn't have been more of a surprise.
In the United States, court judgments on equine cruelty charges are always a bit of a crap shoot. It depends on the state. On the statute. On the number of animals. On the age of the defendant. A hand slap or a jail term? A judge or a jury? You just never know what the outcome will be.
Ernie Paragallo was once the highest flying of the high flyers on the New York racing scene. His horses won over $20 million in purses, according to the New York Times, and he is half owner of leading stallion and former stakes winner Unbridled Song. But when his breeding farm outside Albany was revealed to be housing a herd of underfed, mangey, neglected broodmares and young stock, the entire US Thoroughbred industry was aghast. And the local humane society promptly went into the Thoroughbred rehabilitation business--on a grand scale.
Sure, Paragallo said he lived elsewhere and left his Center Line Farm in the hands of employees, but in the eyes of the law, he was the responsible party. At a trial in March, the court found him guilty of 33 counts of cruelty and neglect. And the rest of the 177 horses on the farm weren't treated much more kindly. Guilty...but what would his penance be?
And yesterday, the judge revealed his decision; Ernie Paragallo was given the maximum sentence of two years in jail and a $33,000 fine. He may also be forced to reimburse the humane society for some or all of almost $100,000 spent in care for his horses. Six horses were euthanized.
Paragallo's sentence is the maximum that may be handed down for his crimes, which are not felonies but only misdemeanors under New York state law. Many people would like to see crimes against animals be elevated to felony level. Paragallo apparently plans to appeal his sentence.
If Paragallo got two years for neglect, what would you expect the British farmer to get who left dead horses rotting in his paddocks? Humane officials there confiscated more than 100 horses and found James Gray, his son, his wife, and his daughters all guilty of various offenses.
Gray was due to be sentenced to 26 weeks in jail when the court took a recess and, according to the BBC, he fled the building. He has not been apprehended.
From what I read and saw on videos, the Gray case, known in England just by the chilling word "Amersham" for the village where the farm was located, appeared more heinous than the Paragallo case and yet he only received one-quarter the jail time that the American received. I would have thought the British system would have been much more punishing, since they have a precise animal welfare code.
Yet the sentence was enough to inspire Gray to escape the courthouse and head for the hills. He still has not been apprehended.
Watch the NBC Today Show's update from March on the Paragallo case, featuring the inspiring new lives of some of the horses rescued from Center Line Farm.
Facts on the Paragallo hearing courtesy of a report by the New York Times.