Billings rancher given 10 days to move horses

Billings, Montana (AP) April 2011

A Billings rancher charged with animal cruelty has been given 10 days to remove dozens of horses from land east of Billings where the animals have no access to water.

During a Justice Court hearing, James Leachman pleaded not guilty to an eighth misdemeanor count of animal cruelty for failing to provide adequate food and veterinary care to horses found starving this winter on tribal land and on ranch land Leachman lost in a federal foreclosure sale last summer.

The Crow Tribe rounded up the trespassing horses and auctioned more than 800 of them earlier this month. Leachman’s son, Seth, successfully bid on 66 horses. Three days later, James Leachman paid just over $33,000 for the horses with a cashier’s check.

Yellowstone County prosecutors say he released them and another 10 horses on 800 acres of land leased from the tribe. The horses have no access to water and prosecutors say they are wandering onto neighboring properties.

“These horses must trespass to survive,” deputy county attorney Ingrid Rosenquist told Justice of the Peace Pedro Hernandez.

Leachman faces eight counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. His trial is scheduled to start June 3, but he asked for a 90-day extension last week. Leachman is acting as his own attorney after Hernandez denied his request for a public defender, filed just days after he paid for the horses purchased at auction.

During a meeting with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Leachman said he offered to fence half of the 800 acres if neighboring ranchers would fence the other half. He said the neighbors did not show up for the meeting.

Hernandez asked Leachman who owned the horses purchased at the sale. “I did not buy the horses,” Leachman responded.

“Then they have no right to be there,” Hernandez responded.