Steamboat Springs After negotiations that stretched into the night, attorneys finalized a plea deal late Monday for Sandy Wisecup that outlines the number of horses she can keep on her property in Oak Creek Canyon and the care she must provide for them.
Wisecup was charged with 80 counts of animal cruelty in late June for allegedly neglecting her horses near mile marker 54 on Colorado Highway 131. Routt County Sheriff’s Office animal control officers charged that Wisecup did not maintain her horse’s hooves and that some horses were underweight.
The discussions between Wisecup, Deputy District Attorney Patrick Welsh and Wisecup’s attorney, Denver-based Linden Hagans, spanned from the original court time of 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday — well past the court’s typical hours.
Routt County Judge James Garrecht allowed the discussions to continue because it appeared several times that a deal was near and because Hagans drove from Denver.
As part of the deal, Wisecup entered a plea of no contest and agreed to a long list of horse care requirements and inspection for the two years of deferred judgment. She will have to have her horses under the care of a licensed veterinarian for the duration of the term, with checkups every 12 weeks. The vet will make a report to the court after each inspection. The horses’ hooves will be inspected by a farrier every eight weeks, or at the direction of the vet. The horses will have to be on a dietary plan recommended by the vet and must have water no more than 24 hours old available at all times.
Wisecup also will have to consent to an evaluation of her property by Routt County Extension Agent CJ Mucklow, and she must follow his recommendation about how many horses she is allowed to have on the property. She can sell or transfer any additional horses, or move them to another property.
She must first reduce the number of her herd by 20 horses within 60 days, and she is prohibited from obtaining any other equestrian animals during the two years of deferred judgment.
If Wisecup violates any of the terms, she can face a fine of as much as $5,000 and spend as many as 18 months in jail. As part of the agreement, she will not contest any restitution charges to as much as $1,500.
One of Wisecup’s horses was euthanized during the investigation following a vet’s recommendation, Deputy Kurtis Luster said. He said the horse’s leg was damaged and had not fused correctly. Wisecup said the horse was injured when it was young and that she owned the 10-year-old horse for six years with no incident.
Cynthia Morgan-Hatlee, who was charged with one count of abuse in the case, reached a deal of a deferred prosecution with a similar list of requirements. If she abides by those terms for one year, her case will not proceed to court. She also agreed to not contest restitution of as much as $2,200. Morgan-Hatlee’s mare and colt were taken from her care during the investigation because the mare was reportedly 200 to 300 pounds underweight.
At one point late in the negotiation, Wisecup said she would not accept any deal because she insisted she was not guilty of the charges.
“I will never say I did something I didn’t do,” she said. “I may go to court and somebody may prove different, but I didn’t do it. I have never abused or neglected one of my animals in my life, and I will not admit to it.”
She said when she learned that her refusal might jeopardize Morgan-Hatlee’s deal, she agreed to the deferred judgment.
Wisecup has said many of the horses on the property belong to other people, including family and friends. She was acquitted of 20 similar charges in a 1992 trial.
Garrecht said the deal appeared to be lenient, given the charges, and asked Welsh how it was created. Welsh said the goal of the deal was the care of the horses, and delaying the case four or five more months awaiting trial would not help them.
“In looking at what was best for the horses, we felt making these changes following these guidelines would be best,” he said. “It gives Ms. Wisecup a chance to prove to herself and this court that she can abide by this, and we think she can.”
He also said there was conflicting expert testimony about the care of the horses and that it did not appear worthwhile to take the case to court to have a jury decide which expert was more believable.
Hagans agreed the horses’ care was at the center of the agreement, and he said he was pleased with the outcome.
“I would just say that I think all of us have worked very, very hard on this, and I can tell you both sides have alternately frustrated today,” he said. “I think when you get a settlement where neither side … is ultimately really tap dancing out of the door, it’s probably a fair settlement. I think that’s what we have today.”