Couple's guilty verdict in horse abuse case upheld

Windsor Mill husband, wife face sentence of up to 84 days in jail

April 28, 2010|By Bryan P. Sears, Patuxent Publishing

A Windsor Mill husband and wife were convicted in Baltimore County Circuit Court on Tuesday on one count of animal cruelty that resulted in the starvation death of one of three horses they owned.

Circuit Court Judge Thomas Bollinger found Donna and Hilton Silver guilty after a three-hour bench trial.

The judge ordered the couple to undergo psychological evaluations before he sentences them June 29.

"There's obviously something going on here that I don't have a handle on," Bollinger said.

Assistant State's Attorney Adam Lippe said he plans to seek the maximum sentence against both defendants.

"They've showed no remorse, no compassion," Lippe said after the trial.

The Silvers could be sentenced to 84 days in jail.

Bollinger's verdict upholds an Aug. 4 conviction in District Court. The Silvers had appealed that conviction, but not before serving six days in jail.

During the new trial, Lippe told the judge that the couple chose to neglect the three horses, and that failure to provide food, water and medical care resulted in the death of one.

Police and animal control officers were called to the Silvers' farm in the 7900 block of Frys Lane, near Randallstown, after receiving calls that people had seen a horse lying in a field under a tarp.

Donna Silver was issued three citations March 25, 2009. A few days later, those civil citations were rescinded in favor of a criminal investigation.

On April 1, 2009, police and animal control officers confiscated two malnourished horses "in obviously poor condition." A third horse, later identified as Calypso, was found lying on the ground under a blue tarp and was euthanized.

As part of a plea agreement last year, the couple agreed to enter an Alford plea on one count in return for prosecutors dropping two other animal cruelty charges. The plea, while not a guilty plea, is an acknowledgment that prosecutors had enough evidence to prove the charges against the Silvers.

The couple was ordered to serve three weekends in jail, fined $1,000 plus court costs, and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to Baltimore County to cover costs of boarding and caring for the two surviving horses. The horses were placed at Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Howard County.

The Silvers were also ordered to pay $275 to a veterinarian for the euthanization of Calypso.

The Silvers balked at paying to have the horse put down. At the time, they said they could not afford it and could not afford a vet's offer to let them pay $10 per month on the bill until it was paid off. A police officer testified that Hilton Silver asked her to shoot the horse instead.

The surviving horses have since recovered and Days End eventually plans to offer them for adoption. Lippe said the county has paid $16,000 for the care of the horses — an amount he plans on asking the judge to order the couple to pay back.

Elizabeth Klebe, a Westminster veterinarian, had been called in by animal control officers to examine Calypso. Klebe testified that the horse was 400 pounds underweight as the result of starvation.

"It had to be prolonged," Klebe said of the malnutrition. "She had no body fat."

Klebe said the horse was in tremendous pain and had to be euthanized.

David Green, an attorney representing Hilton Silver, repeatedly asked the judge to dismiss the charges against his client, saying he was not the horse's owner.

Green put the Silvers' 23-year-old daughter, Allison, on the stand to testify that her mother was the primary caretaker of the horse. She said her father, who is also an attorney, suffered from several medical conditions and was frequently found lying on a couch watching television.

Under cross examination, however, Allison Silver acknowledged that her father was the sole source of income for the family and bought food for the animals.

Michelle Moodispaw, an attorney for Donna Silver, told Bollinger her client did care for the horses and provided food and water on a regular basis.

Moodispaw said prosecution testimony "paints a very ugly picture, but does that rise to the level of criminal neglect? They were making efforts to deal with the situation."

Lippe rejected that assertion.

"This was not a crime of omission," Lippe said. "It was a crime of commission."

"They had cable [TV] in the house, and a horse dying in the field," he said.

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