Gruesome testimony: Convicted animal abuser appeals

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An emaciated-looking horse at Peaceable Farm. Photo courtesy of Jean Thornton An emaciated-looking horse at Peaceable Farm. Photo courtesy of Jean Thornton

An Orange County woman will remain out on bond as she appeals a conviction of 25 counts of animal cruelty in what some have called the worst case of its scope they’ve ever seen.

When police arrested Anne Shumate Williams, the owner of a nonprofit horse rescue called Peaceable Farm, on October 19, 2015, hey found a haunting combination of dead and gravely ill horses, cats, dogs and chickens on her Liberty Mills Road property.

On October 31, the first day of her two-day trial, prosecutors entered as evidence a deputy’s bodycam video taken inside the home on the property. The video showed inches of feces, garbage and unidentifiable bones and the house brimming with animals—both living and dead. Two dead cats were curled up in the bathtub and one hung lifeless in a bedroom closet. Two dogs were locked in side-by-side kennels with no food or water, and only one of them was alive.

The odor was so noxious that deputies needed respirators to enter the house, testified Orange County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Brad Darnell, who arrived at the property with the initial search warrant. He said his first priority was to distribute food and water to the significant number of outside animals that had no access to either.

“They were counting on her for the basics they needed to live and she kept them starving,” said prosecutor Kelsey Bolin. “This is no shelter. This is a place where disease can spread, run rampant, and [the animals] have no way out.”

Witnesses gave graphic testimonies about the suffering of the nine horses, 10 cats, five dogs and chicken that charges were handed down for. More than 100 animals lived on the farm.

In closing arguments, the commonwealth reiterated some of the most gruesome points, including an emaciated gray mare covered in maggots, a horse with all four hooves drawn together just to stand, and horses with skin rot and so little bone marrow that the diagnostic center couldn’t test it. A horse named Blondie, who physically couldn’t stand, suffered heart murmurs that developed as the animal was forced to cannibalize its own heart muscle.

Anne Williams and her attorney outside Orange County General District Court. Staff photo

Psychologist Jennifer Rasmussen testified that Williams was suffering from moderate to severe clinical depression at the time of her October 2015 arrest, which impaired her judgment and problem solving skills. She said Williams also has narcissistic and avoidant personality traits, resulting in a negative self image and disinterest in social interactions.

In her communication with the defendant, Rasmussen said Williams was remorseful, cried multiple times and was devastated that she could have done that to animals. She said she was unable to see how terribly the animals were suffering at the time.

Williams expressed her interest in moving to a small town in Virginia to hybridize and raise daylilies, and she fears ever owning an animal again, according to Rasmussen’s testimony.

Judge Claiborne Stokes Jr. found Williams guilty of 22 class one misdemeanors and three lesser charges of class four misdemeanors. She was sentenced to 18 months in jail and given a $300 fine, and because the charges are misdemeanors, Williams could serve only 9 months.

Though she’s appealing the animal cruelty charges, Williams is also scheduled to appear in Orange Circuit Court on December 7 for 13 felony counts of embezzlement related to the alleged misuse of Peaceable Farm funds.

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