Supreme Court reinstates charges in wild horse shootings
CARSON CITY, Nev. – The Nevada Supreme Court says more wild horse-killing charges can be filed against two ex-Marines and a friend, despite defense lawyers’ claims of a weak, fuzzy case against their clients.
The high court decided Friday to return the case to Carson District Judge Mike Griffin, saying he could allow prosecutors to file seven more gross misdemeanor charges against former Lance Cpls. Scott Brendle and Darien Brock and their former Wooster High friend, Anthony Merlino.
That’s in addition to one gross misdemeanor count per defendant that Griffin had allowed earlier.
While the Supreme Court allowed for more charges, it rejected claims by the Storey County district attorney’s office that there was probable cause for 22 counts against each defendant.
Prosecutors also argued there’s a legal basis for turning the single gross-misdemeanor counts into felonies against Brendle, Brock and Merlino.
The three were arrested after more than 30 wild horses were shot near this historic mining town at Christmastime 1998. Most were found dead although several wounded horses had to be destroyed by officers.
The shootings prompted international outrage, and led to less-than-honorable military discharges for Brendle and Brock.
Lawyers for the defendants argued that Griffin found there was no case against the three men except for a single horse-shooting to which each admitted, and that finding couldn’t be overturned without a showing of substantial error.
They also contended Griffin’s ruling would be difficult to overturn because prosecutors conceded there could have been other people shooting horses in the area – even before Brock, Brendle and Merlino arrived.
The lawyers also said there are no legislative standards for a prosecution plan to add the value of each horse until the total tops $5,000 – the point at which a gross misdemeanor turns into a felony.
Unlike prized thoroughbreds worth fortunes, a wild horse’s value is highly subjective – priceless to those who see them as a symbol of the Wild West, worthless to some ranchers who consider them rangeland pests that compete with livestock for feed.
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