Wild horse shooting hearing is Wednesday | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wild horse shooting hearing is Wednesday

Rex Bovee, Tribune News Service

VIRGINIA CITY – Three men charged in the shootings of 31 Virginia Range mustangs will appear in a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Virginia Township Justice Court.

Facing six counts each are Anthony John Merlino, 20, of Reno; and Scott William Brendle, 22, and Darien Thomas Brock, 21, both of whom were in the Marine Corps when accused of the shootings. The three attended Wooster High School together

The charges are: two felonies of grand larceny and grand theft, carrying sentences of 1-10 years in prison; three felonies of maiming, poisoning or killing another person’s animal, carrying 1-5-year sentences, and one gross misdemeanor of maiming and killing, with a possible sentence of one year in the Storey County Jail.

Reports of shot mustangs in Lagomarcino Canyon on Dec. 27, 1998, led to a four-day search that turned up 33 dead or wounded horses in a 31-square-mile area. The three men were identified from tips, including one that resulted from one of the suspects bragging at a party, received as a reward fund grew to $35,000.

Though 33 horses were determined to be shot during the investigation, Storey County District Attorney Janet Hess only charged the three suspects with shooting 31. Hess has refused to discuss the evidence or the case outside of court.

News of the shooting drew attention from animal lovers and others across the nation and the world, as animal protection organizations used World Wide Web sites to publicize the incident.

The increased public awareness helped boost the chances of legislation before the 1999 Nevada Legislature that increased the penalty for maiming animals to a felony. The bill even received the support of livestock organizations because it extended the increased penalties to livestock. The bill became law in June.

The three suspects reportedly were high school friends in Washoe County. Brock and Brendle had since enlisted in the Marines and were assigned to different bases in California at the time of their arrests. They allegedly were visiting with Merlino last Christmas when the shootings took place. The two Marines were discharged from the corps in February, in an action one attorney called an unfair assumption of guilt.

Brock said in a California television news interview that he had watched his friends shoot one horse but that he knew nothing about the other shot mustangs.

The three suspects have been free on $60,000 bail each since their initial appearances in the Storey county courtroom in January.

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