Man jailed over horse cruelty charges
A Caroline County farrier convicted of seven counts of animal cruelty to horses will spend the next 14 months in jail.
Michael A. Wilkerson Sr., 47, will also have to pay $3,500 in fines and $4,500 in restitution for veterinary bills and is prohibited from possessing any agricultural animals.
He will be allowed to maintain his livelihood as a farrier, which is a specialist in equine hoof care.
Commonwealth's Attorney Tony Spencer argued during the sentencing hearing that Wilkerson didn't have the resources to properly care for his horses during the winter months when there was no grass to feed on, so he fed them the bare minimum to keep them alive until the summer.
A veterinarian testified during the trial in December that one of the horses was so starved that its bone-marrow fat content, which is usually 60 to 90 percent, was less than two percent.
"This was an intentional near-starvation of horses for months at a time," Spencer said. "It's time for him to answer to what he has done. It was horrible cruelty."
Defense attorney John LaFratta told the judge that Wilkerson fell on hard times and shouldn't receive jail time.
"He fell short of what is required when you take an animal into care, but I don't think that he did anything intentionally to hurt these horses," LaFratta said.
Judge Horace A. Revercomb III sentenced Wilkerson Tuesday night to seven years in prison with all but 14 months suspended. Wilkerson was also convicted of cruelty to 12 horses in 1996.
"Considering your past, you would realize that you would have to properly take care of these animals or else don't take care of them," Revercomb said. "It says you thumb your nose at the courts and you're going to do what you're going to do."
Wilkerson plans to appeal the judge's decision.
The case began in January 2008 when Animal Control officers said they warned Wilkerson that he needed to do a better job of feeding and caring for nine of his horses. They returned about two weeks later and seized five of the horses because they didn't see any improvement, but four of the horses were missing.
Wilkerson was convicted in February 2008 of four counts of cruelty to the seized horses. He was not convicted of cruelty against the fifth horse because he did not own the horse for more than six months.
He appealed that decision and, after several postponements, Spencer added more charges of animal cruelty after the four missing horses were discovered, in the same condition, with a friend of Wilkerson's in Lunenburg County.