IRON MOUNTAIN - Two Kingsford women were sentenced to a 60-day jail term and will have to complete community service for an animal cruelty case that drew a lot of community reaction.
They are to serve 30 days immediately, with 30 days suspended.
In addition, the women are not to own, possess or care for any animals or pets or have any employment or activity that involves interaction with, or the caretaking of animals on a paid or voluntary basis while on probation.
Joan Khoury, 60, and Kathy Khoury, 56, stood before Dickinson County District Court Judge Christopher Ninomiya with their attorney Julie LaCost of Iron Mountain for sentencing on Monday. The sisters were each sentenced for two counts of abandoning/cruelty to two or three animals. They had earlier pleaded no contest to the charges.
Law enforcement removed 30 horses, 14 dogs and 15 cats from two separate residences in June.
Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Carl Downing said the defendants have taken some responsibility and have some remorse for their actions, but his problem occurred after pictures of the them dressed up as a judge and prisoner for Halloween were sent to Judge Ninomiya.
"To me, that shows disregard and they had not taken responsibility the way they should have or were not remorseful. I feel they need a wake up call," Downing said. "Their mental health problems doesn't excuse the scale of what occurred."
Downing said there were a number of expenditures made with the removal of the animals from the defendants' care, and restitution of $2,150.40 needs to be paid.
LaCost said her and her clients would like the court to know they essentially have recognized their wrongdoing and have considered it a serious matter. They worked with the court and law enforcement and recognized they were not in a position to care for them.
LaCost said her clients were afraid to ask for help and cooperated when law enforcement came into the picture.
"They demonstrated they did without in their personal life to provide for the animals. Their funds shrunk and their own mental health issues escalated," LaCost said. "They are very sorry despite what the circumstances look like. They are sad and depressed people with physical problems and the evaluations demonstrate that. Just the fact that they don't have the get up and go, which is symptomatic of bi-polar disorder."
LaCost added that her clients suffered enough as the community has been brutal, especially on social networking sites, such as Facebook.
"Part of that played into the Halloween costumes. I don't condone the inappropriate response to social networking blogs," LaCost said. "All that played into the poor choice of my clients dressing up. They did not buy the costumes. Kathy's adult daughter did. They didn't want to go and didn't think it was a good idea. They didn't know a horse was going to be there."
An individual dressed as a horse was also in the Halloween photo.
LaCost added her clients have not laughed or made light of the situation until that night when they dressed up.
"They are very sorry it was interpreted that way," she said. "These ladies suffered already. The public retribution was enough consequences of their actions."
LaCost added her clients are productive members of society and don't drink, which is important to mention because that will make them more amendable and not allow this to reoccur.
"They don't need jail to learn a lesson. They are in counseling. An alternative to jail should be community service work," she said.
Joan and Kathy Khoury said they were sorry for what happened to the animals and about the Halloween costume.
Judge Ninomiya said it was not appropriate to consider the Halloween photograph that caused a community outrage in this case. But added the photographs of the animal cruelty were "absolutely horrible' and there is no excuse for that kind of treatment to animals.
"These animals didn't deserve to be treated the way they were in your care. The house was full of feces, and the smell so atrocious law enforcement removing them had to wear protective clothing," Ninomiya said. "The explanation is puzzling and does not sufficiently explain actions."
"I lost control and didn't know what to do," Ninomiya read from one of the defendants statements.
Ninomiya noted it is unusual to sentence individuals of the their age with no criminal history to jail time, but said he felt it was necessary and appropriate.
Ninomiya sentenced the two women to two years probation, which is the maximum time allowed for a misdemeanor.
They were also sentenced to 60 days jail - 30 days to be served immediately, and 30 days suspended. They were ordered to complete 60 days community service in lieu of the suspended 30-day jail term. The maximum jail time for a misdemeanor is 93 days in jail.
The judge rejected the plea agreement for a delayed sentence, which means the charges will remain on the women's record permanently.
Both defendants must pay $3,390 each in court costs and fines, including $2,150 in restitution for the removal and care of the animals.
In addition, the women are not to possess, own or care for animals or work at any place of employment or do any activity that involves interaction with or the caretaking of animals on a paid or voluntary basis while on probation.
"That is from a goldfish to horse. You folks do not belong anywhere near animals," Ninomiya said.
Ninomiya added that if the law had allowed him to sentence the women to not possess or be around animals for life, he would have, but that part of the sentence is only while they are on probation.
All the animals survived the cruelty and are in good hands. Initially, the horses were tested and relocated to Pipers Rescue Ranch, a no-kill animal rescue in Wallace.
Almost Home Animal Shelter in Quinnesec found homes for the dogs and cats.
The case has drew a lot of comments on Facebook, and several people from the community attended the sentencing hearing.
Lisa M. Hoffmann's e-mail address is email@example.com.