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May trial set for McConnell, co-defendants

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A May trial date has been set for a prominent walking horse trainer and three others accused in a horse soring conspiracy.

Jackie McConnell, 60, along with Jeff Dockery, 56; John Mays, 47; and Joseph Abernathy, 29, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge William B. Carter in Chattanooga for arraignment and to hear their conditions for bond.

Carter set May 22 as the trial date for the four, who are facing charges of conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act. With the exception of Mays, they also face charges related to horse soring, transporting and entering sored horses in show competitions and falsifying documents.

However, McConnell will return to court next Friday, March 23, so that his attorneys can argue against restrictions that have barred him from training horses until his trial. The four face a penalty of $30,000 if they don't show up for court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Neff had objected to allowing McConnell to continue working with horses, stating that "criminal activity has been ongoing for years," at his barn.

Attorneys Hugh Moore and Tom Greenholtz also argued that McConnell should not have to give up his rights against unreasonable search and seizure, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.


Meanwhile, Dockery and Mays agreed to conditions set by federal prosecutors that they not train or care for horses other than their own property before the May trial.

A special condition was negotiated for Abernathy to allow him to work as a farrier, but he must provide a weekly list of customers and their contact information, which may be reviewed by prosecutors and the probation office.

Late last month, agents with the U.S. Department of Agriculture raided McConnell's Whitter Stables in west Tennessee, taking eight of 28 horses. According to USDA records, McConnell has been suspended by horse industry organizations at least nine times between 1988 and 2009, with four of the violations resulting in suspensions that were soring-specific.

The 52-count federal indictment alleges that the four participated in horse soring-related crimes from 2006 to 2011, while McConnell was under a five-year USDA suspension from horse shows.

According to the Free-Press, Dockery and Mays each have at least four violations resulting in suspension, most of them soring-related. Abernathy did not have violations listed in the USDA database. Older violations were competition-related sanctions, not criminal allegations.

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