ATLANTA - A Rust Township woman will spend three years on probation for two felonies involving animal cruelty or torture.
Jennifer Elen Tucker-Richard was sentenced Monday by 26th Circuit Court Judge Michael Mack to probation for one count of animal cruelty or abandonment and another of animal killing or torturing. She was ordered to do 250 hours community service, and she's forbidden from owning any animals or possessing them on her home or property. She'll serve three months in jail if she doesn't complete the terms of her probation. Additionally, she was ordered to pay $18,217.01 in restitution, plus $1,058 in fines and costs.
Tucker-Richard, 35, was charged with the felonies after Montmorency County sheriff's deputies seized 37 dogs and six miniature horses from her house and property in January. All were suffering from a lack of basic care, and had no food, shelter or water.
In February, Tucker-Richard pleaded guilty to two of five charges against her. In exchange, Prosecutor Terrie Case agreed to drop another animal cruelty charge, as well as two charges of using a computer to commit a crime.
James Schmier, Tucker-Richard's attorney, showed Mack numerous letters vouching for Tucker-Richard, including one thanking her for giving away a dog she could've sold for $400. Case had her own stack of letters from people asking her to "be as severe as possible," she said.
Schmier also asked Mack about getting one of Tucker-Richard's felony convictions expunged, arguing she had not deliberately harmed the animals.
"These dogs weren't being raised for blood sport," he said. "In fact, she was probably making $7,000 or $8,000 a year selling 10 to 12 dogs.
Case protested, pointing out that Tucker-Richard advertised her dogs on several websites. The postings were misleading, Case said, because they showed "cute, healthy puppies."
"This is not what we found, these dogs were in bad shape" she said.
Ultimately, Mack did not grant Schmier his request.
Tucker-Richard told Mack before hearing her sentence that she doesn't "ever plan on doing this again"
"I got in a bad situation," she said.
Mack said he agreed that Tucker-Richard was overwhelmed, having four children to care for in addition to the animals. She was also helping her mother, who has health problems, and dealing with a recent divorce.
"I don't think there was ever an intent to bring harm to these animals, although there was monstrous neglect of these animals," he said.
Many people in the community were upset by the harm Tucker-Richard caused to the animals, Mack said.
"People care about animals in this community, and elsewhere as well," he said. "I believe you did, too, in the beginning, but you just went way overboard."
After the sentencing, Schmier said Tucker-Richard had been trying to get rid of some of her animals before the day deputies arrived in January. He also pointed out a letter she wrote, taking responsibility for her actions and admitting she fell short in her duties to the animals.
"I don't want to minimize, she got herself in this position, don't get me wrong, and she knows it," he said.