Man Accused Of Starving 10 Horses Changes Plea; Sentencing Set

June 30, 2011

The Walnut Hill man accused of starving 10 horses changed his plea to no contest to the charges against him Wednesday. He will be sentenced in August.

James Benjamin Bethea, 61, appeared Wednesday afternoon before Escambia Circuit Judge Ronald Swanson and entered the no contest plea on two felony and eight misdemeanor animal cruelty charges. He had previously pleaded not guilty.

Bethea had 20 horses on his property in the 5000 block of Highway 97A in Enon when Panhandle Equine Rescue arrived to investigate an abuse complaint on February 2. A neighbor told deputies she observed a horse lying in the pasture the previous morning that did not move all day.

For more photos from the scene, click here. WARNING: Some readers may find the photos disturbing.

One of the horses was so severely malnourished, according to PER President Diane Lowery, that it was euthanized in the pasture by a licensed veterinarian.

Another was in critical condition, unable to stand. The thin animal shivered in the February cold and sleet as rescuers worked to load it into a trailer for transport to a veterinarian for evaluation. Nearly a dozen volunteers were forced to push and pull the horse into a  trailer as it lay nearly motionless on a tarp.

Another eight horses were seized by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and taken to a veterinarian for treatment.

“They won’t survive the night in this cold and sleet if we don’t get them out of here,” Lowery said as a small army of volunteers assembled with horse trailers to load the animals for transport.

An Escambia County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene unit was called to the scene to photograph the horses and their surroundings, including empty food troughs and old bathtubs that were presumably the water source for the horses. The bathtubs were dry.

Many of the horses gathered around a fresh roll of hay that, according to Lowery, appeared to have been placed in the pasture sometime Wednesday. Other horses, bones clearly visible under their skin, stayed away. Another horse gently nudged volunteers, seeking attention and closely following those that would rub it on its face.

For more photos from the scene, click here. WARNING: Some readers may find the photos disturbing.

Pictured top: One of nine horses being seized last February in the Enon community. Pictured inset: This horse was in critical condition, unable to stand even with assistance. Pictured below: Another of the seized horses. exclusive photos, click to enlarge.


14 Responses to “Man Accused Of Starving 10 Horses Changes Plea; Sentencing Set”

  1. David Huie Green on July 1st, 2011 11:29 am

    “I’ve heard the same about grass clippings, but wasn’t sure why. Could you tell us why they can be toxic and cause colic?”


    “Wet, green lawn clippings that have been left in a mower bag or in an exposed pile will start to mildew and ferment quickly. This can cause serious gastric problems in your horse’s gut, leading to a bout of colic.
    There’s also the possibility that the clippings contain lawn chemicals that are not suitable for ingestion. Toxic ornamental plants like yew or oleander can also be mixed in lawn clippings.”

    This also explains the bare ground where my neighbors have horses and less than an acre of land.

    David for healthful and sufficient food

  2. Unchaindogs on July 1st, 2011 9:22 am

    Thank you for the update on this case, William!

  3. bwayne on July 1st, 2011 3:51 am

    teacher1……thank you for your input. That’s what I was looking for. I knew there was an acreage limitation, but could not remember what it was. I have seen officials there before, and I did see that he put up a shelter for the horses. The man has worked hard at fencing, clearing and up until now there was always some hay for them. I’m glad to hear the case is already on the radar.

  4. mary b on June 30th, 2011 8:11 pm

    Well it dont look like hes missed to many meals,People must learn animals have feelings they fell pain and hunger,.I think a life sentance would be fitting.hey im just saying.

  5. teacher1 on June 30th, 2011 4:22 pm

    Regarding the animals on the property on Williams Ditch Rd. This case has just been before a Special Magistrate, not because of the bad conditions for the animals but because to have livestock of any kind you are supposed to have 2 acres and he has 1.73. The magistrate gave him 2 choices. Either buy enough adjoining land to make up the 2 acres or get rid of all of the animals within 90 days. If, after 90 days he can show that he is making progress toward getting rid of all of the animals, he can apply for an extension, but they all have to go. This case has been on going with code enforcement for probably a year or more. The animals are not in bad enough condition for Panhandle Equine Rescue to do anything. They have kept up with the case.

  6. gamecube on June 30th, 2011 4:04 pm

    AL – I’ve heard the same about grass clippings, but wasn’t sure why. Could you tell us why they can be toxic and cause colic?

  7. Molino Resident on June 30th, 2011 2:28 pm

    You know if the State’s Attorney is handling this case…it must be bad. Obviously the images of these animals prove they were in severe distress. ANYONE seeing these animals in person or by photos cannot deny the neglect. It’s consider a “slow kill”…how terrible it THAT! James deserves to be punished for his actions. I support the conviction.

  8. Angi B. on June 30th, 2011 12:47 pm

    Poor animals, they look so pityful here… If you can’t afford to take care of your animals; then you don’t deserve to have them. They too need a good caring home, where they can get what they need, instead of suffering from starvation!!! Hope they are taken away and given to a good home.

  9. AL on June 30th, 2011 11:19 am

    and stop the neighbors from throwing grass clippings over…. it can be toxic and cause colic

  10. Bjay on June 30th, 2011 10:55 am

    Please do keep an eye out. I appreciate anyone who looks out for the well being of animals. Just dont wait to long. An inquery wont hurt anyone. Id rather catch it early than wait till the animals are suffering.

  11. poohbear on June 30th, 2011 9:08 am

    I agree with bjay. Make the call. Animals can’t call out for help.

  12. bwayne on June 30th, 2011 9:06 am

    The animals look healthy, and the people do bring in grain…..and they were putting hay out there up until a week or so ago. I am not going to jump the gun…..I may go by there today and see a bale of hay.

  13. Bjay on June 30th, 2011 8:13 am

    A week isnt long enough? Dont wait until they have to be put down to make the call.

  14. bwayne on June 30th, 2011 8:02 am

    That is so sad that anyone could let animals in their care get in a condition like that. I have been watching an enclosure of horses and goats on Williams Ditch Rd for about a week now. They have no pasture as it is all dirt….and I have not seen any hay there for over a week.
    Neighbors have been throwing their grass cuttings over the fence for them, but if I don’t see some hay in the next few days, I’m turning them in.

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