Maintaining her innocence until the end, a Riverton woman was sentenced to four years’ supervised probation Monday, with the threat of four years in jail if she fails probation, for animal cruelty in the deadly starving of several goats and mistreatment of other animals last autumn.
“I did not do this,” Kathy Wright, 51, said emphatically and between occasional sobs as she gave Alford guilty pleas to eight counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty at her change of plea hearing Monday, moments before her sentencing hearing in Riverton Circuit Court.
An Alford plea is a variation of guilty plea in which the defendant maintains she’s innocent, but admits the state has enough evidence to convict her.
Riverton Circuit Court Judge Dan Stebner sentenced Wright to 180 days in jail on each count, to run consecutively, but suspended that term over four years’ probation. The first two years of probation are to be supervised, with an option for the latter two years to be unsupervised if Wright decides to move to another state, Stebner said.
A key requirement of Wright’s probation is that she may not have or transport any animals, and must get permission to be around others’ animals during the term.
Stebner also ordered Wright to pay $4,261.76 in restitution to compensate the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office for feed, veterinarian fees and other costs associated with re-homing and rescuing the animals that survived.
Wright described the deaths of at least a dozen animals on her property as a perfect storm. Her garage had burned, destroying some of the equipment she needed to care for the animals.
Wright said she’d recently returned from a bad life situation in Washington to move back to Fremont County.
And an illness swept through her goats, killing 12 of them just as a difficult winter descended, Wright claimed.
“This illness caused the goats to go off their feed. My goats were provided with food every day,” she said. “I did not just sit in my house and let my animals starve.”
Wright lamented the prosecutor saying that the community had rallied around the sheriff’s office to rescue the animals: she wondered why the community did not rally around her after her garage burned and help her animals before she was charged.
Wright allowed Cowboy State Daily to review letters that local residents wrote on her behalf, in which the writers called her dutiful, passionate about animals and/or incapable of abusing or neglecting them.
Dr. Gunda Gamble, a veterinarian at G Bar G Veterinary Services in Riverton, disputed Wright’s argument during a follow-up interview with Cowboy State Daily.
“It was an amphitheater of suffering out there,” said Gamble.
She said the necropsies showed many animals went weeks or months without food. Goats hold their food in their guts for a long time, so a lack of older food in their guts suggested severe starvation, said Gamble.
“These animals would have bleated. Called. They begged for food. They were constrained in kennels, like dog kennels,” said Gamble. “Two (goat) kids, 3 weeks old were huddled together under a plastic dome (like a) litter box, emaciated, with no water.”
Gamble noted Wright’s argument that she had watered her animals religiously. That may have been, said Gamble, but the animals’ water was frozen solid throughout the day.
Assistant Fremont County Attorney Ember Oakley had noted during her sentencing argument that there was food on the property, yet the animals starved. She said it's unfortunate that the charges are misdemeanors under Wyoming law.
Gamble said she and other investigators sent animal femurs and other specimens to laboratories and discovered shriveled bone marrow and other signs of starvation.
“Starving is painful,” she said.
Gamble said she was worried that many animals wouldn’t survive the efforts undertaken to rescue them during the difficult winter. But they are now thriving, she said.
She referenced a horse that Oakley had presented to the court in a photograph showing its emaciated ribs. That horse, said Gamble, was not sick, it was starving. And it’s fed and energetic since being re-homed, the veterinarian added.
While Wright claimed there were 12 dead animals due to an illness, the state's investigators counted at least 22.
The evidentiary affidavit in the case says two sheriff’s deputies met at Wright’s home on David’s Way west of Riverton just after noon Dec. 7 after one of them found several dead goats in pens – some freshly dead and others in various stages of decomposition.
The Fremont County Attorney’s Office had expanded its case against Wright from two animal cruelty charges to 10, but dropped the ninth and 10th counts Monday pursuant to a plea agreement.
Those 10 counts included:
Count one, for more than 20 dead sheep and goats
Count two, for a dead red roan Nubian doe and a dead cream-colored Nigerian dwarf buck
Count three, for cruelty toward nine horses, a sorrel gelding with a club foot, two bay mares, two red-and-white paint geldings, one roan mare, one roan gelding, one bay paint pony and one bay filly pony
Count four, for cruelty toward a red and white paint gelding
Count five, for cruelty toward 37 doe goats
Count six, for cruelty toward a doe goat with mastitis (infection related to breastfeeding)
Count seven, for cruelty toward seven buck goats
Count eight, for cruelty toward 18 ewe sheep
Count nine, for alleged cruelty to four ram sheep (this charge was dropped)
Count 10, for alleged cruelty toward three geese and 15 chickens (this charged was dropped)
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.