Leachman horse abuse trial begins

A jury was selected Monday during the opening day of trial for James Leachman of Billings, who is charged with abusing five horses on a ranch he once owned on the Crow Reservation.

Mare and foal at Leachman Home Place

A mare and her foal that were among among about 350 or 450 horses fenced into a pasture with almost no grass on the former Leachman Home Place ranch 16 miles east of Billings.

A jury of six with two alternates was sworn in Monday afternoon in Yellowstone County Justice Court. The panel was selected from a pool of more than 50 potential jurors, who were questioned for several hours in private in Justice of the Peace Larry Herman’s chambers.

On Jan. 21, 2011, the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office filed the misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty against Leachman for a handful of horses that died or had to be euthanized at his former Home Place ranch during the winter of 2010-2011. He is charged with failing to provide adequate water or feed for his horses and failing to adjust or remove leg bands as the horses grew, resulting in severe injuries.

Leachman pleaded not guilty to all counts on April 20, 2011, and asked for a jury trial.Yellowstone County Sheriff’s deputies and volunteers fed the horses at the ranch through the winter.

Half of the prospective jurors were dismissed after the one-by-one questioning in the judge’s chambers. The rest were questioned further in open court.

Chief Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Rod Souza told the jury pool that the case is about the plastic identification bands put on the horses’ legs.

James Leachman of Billings listens to jury selectio

James Leachman of Billings listens to jury selection Monday in his trial on charges of misdemeanor animal abuse in Yellowstone County Justice Court.

“Mr. Leachman was negligent in not providing appropriate veterinary care to these horses or euthanizing these horses,” he said.

In her questioning of potential jurors, Yellowstone County Public Defender Roberta Drew said Leachman is accused of misdemeanor cruelty to five of about 800 horses. She said it is impossible to run a large livestock operation without some loss.

Leachman, who is best known for his Leachman Cattle Co. operation and horse-breeding operation under the Hairpin Cavvy brand, lost two area ranches to debt.

He continued to graze his horses on the Home Place ranch during the 12 months he had to come up with the money to redeem the property, which he wasn’t able to do.

In March 2011, the Bureau of Indian Affairs seized his horses, removed the leg bands and sold the horses during an auction at the ranch that attracted buyers from across North America.

AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
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