On Nov. 13, a jury in the case of State of Idaho vs. Ivan Shannon Pearce II found Pearce guilty on four misdemeanor counts of causing cruelty to animals in Payette County Magistrate Court.
Four horses were found dead from dehydration around Pearce’s New Plymouth property on July 15, 2018. A fifth horse, which was close to death, survived the incident through neighbors’ intervention.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and one year in jail.
Pearce pleaded not guilty, contending that a water hose he used to keep his horses’ water trough filled had been turned off.
The case was initially investigated by the Payette County Sheriff Department, before being handed over to the Payette Police Department.
Presiding over the case was Judge Robert Jackson. Prosecuting the case was County Prosecutor Ross Pittman and Deputy Mike Duke. Defending Pearce was Attorney John Kormanik of Boise.
Jackson chose to have seven jurors present for the case, four men and three women, electing to have an alternate juror available, if needed. Three men and three women would decide the case.
The prosecution pursued claims by Pearce’s neighbors that the trough used to water his horses was dry on several occasions in the weeks leading to the horses’ deaths. They emphasized that when a neighbor called Pearce to tell him that his horses were dead, he initially denied that they were his.
Kormanik said in this case, “It’s not about dead horses,” but rather about whether the jury felt that Pearce had tried to care for his horses. He also pointed out that Pearce has since admitted those were his horses.
“There is no dispute that those were his horses,” Kormanik said.
State’s witness Verne Anderson testified he was helping his wife care for her horses at the time. Upon spotting one of the dead horses, he first alerted a neighbor for help. After seeing another, Anderson called 911 and took video of the scene which was presented in court.
Former Payette Police Chief Mark Clark was also among state witnesses, testifying that during an interview Pearce admitted the horses belonged to him despite telling a neighbor who called to notify him that the horses were not his.
Clark related that Pearce expressed regret for not checking his horses more closely.
“He did make comments about regretting not being able to check on them,” he said.
When asked by defense about whether public pressure swayed his decision to issue citations to Pearce, Clark insisted he did so because, “I truly believed there was neglect.”
Miles Bruce, another state witness, spoke to Pearce the day after the horses were found dead. Bruce said that Pearce spoke of plans to check the horses the Saturday prior, which he said didn’t happen because he had a family function to attend.
Bruce further testified that when he came to do work at Pearce’s property, he observed weeds had grown around the hose which fed the horses’ trough.
Pearce’s son, Shannon Whitney Pearce, was one of the witnesses called by the defense. He testified that after he and his father set up the trough, which measured 7-feet wide and 2-feet deep, the hose used to fill the trough was left on a trickle all the time.
“He was very distraught,” said Shannon Whitney Pearce, about his father’s reaction to the loss of his horses. “To see him lose those horses was tough on him and it was tough on me.”
Shannon Pearce’s son estimated the horses’ trough could hold between 600 and 700 gallons of water; Clark estimated it could hold around 575 gallons.
The defense also called Chet Slyter, a cattle rancher from Weiser, who has some experience in caring for horses, to ask about his knowledge of horse care for comparison of practices.
Slyter said he checks his livestock at least once a week, except in winter when he feeds them daily.
He accepted the prosecution’s suggestion that not checking more than once a week runs risk of horses dying, but noted he also checks his water supply each week to address possible shortages.
“If you’re not used to it drying up, you don’t check it as often,” said Slyter.
In closing, the prosecution noted that the Pearces’ testimonies conflicted with that of another witness: Clark testified that Ivan Shannon Pearce said the water was fine every time they checked it, as did Shannon Whitney Pearce. State witness Scott Windham testified he turned the water on and off on June 25, 2018.
Prosecutors also noted Pearce’s own testimony that horses would die in three days without water.
Kormanik reminded jurors that the law guaranteed presumption of innocence, until the jury found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt. He also asked them not to focus only on the dead horses in their deliberation.
After deliberating for two hours, jurors found Ivan Shannon Pearce, II guilty on four counts of cruelty to animals.
Kormanik declined to comment on behalf of his client.
Pearce is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 3, 2020.
Pittman had the following to say about the verdicts.
“The people of Payette County care deeply for animals, the four guilty verdicts yesterday [Nov. 13.] reinforce that belief. The jury stood up for the responsible care of livestock and this office applauds that stand.
“Any subsequent violations will not be felonies because he was convicted under Idaho Code 25-3502(e). In order for them to become felonies the convictions would have to have been for violations defined in Idaho Code 25-3502(a) or (b),” Pittman wrote.