Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs February 15, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Marshall County No. 15-CR-112
Forest A. Durard, Jr., Judge
Sandra Darlene Wood, was convicted following a jury trial in
Marshall County Circuit Court of one count of cruelty to
animals. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court
sentenced Defendant to 11 months, 29 days suspended on
probation after 45 days' incarceration and ordered
Defendant to pay $4, 134 in restitution to Volunteer Equine
Advocates. Defendant raises three issues on appeal: (1)
whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain her conviction
for cruelty to animals; (2) whether the sentence imposed is
excessive and contrary to the law; and (3) whether the trial
court properly admitted testimony regarding a prior visit by
a Sheriff's Department Detective to her farm in June,
2014. After a careful review of the record and the briefs of
the parties, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Orr Hargrove, District Public Defender; William J. Harold and
Michael J. Collins, Assistant District Public Defenders, for
the appellant, Sandra Darlene Wood.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Alexander C. Vey, Assistant Attorney General; Robert James
Carter, District Attorney General; Felicia Walkup and Weakley
E. Barnard, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the
appellee, State of Tennessee.
T. Woodall, P.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Robert W. Wedemeyer and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.
T. WOODALL, PRESIDING JUDGE.
27, 2014, Detective Drew Binkley, of the Marshall County
Sheriff's Department, responded to a call regarding the
condition of several horses at Defendant's farm.
Defendant told Detective Binkley that she had been out of
state and that her husband and son had failed to properly
care for the horses. Detective Binkley was concerned about
the condition of the horses. He testified, "you could
see hip bones, rib bones, [and] the spine of the back."
He observed that the horses had very little grass to eat, and
the grass available to the horses was short and mostly weeds.
Detective Binkley took several photos of the horses and
relayed his concerns to Defendant.
Binkley and Defendant discussed her plan to get weight back
on the horses and what would happen if the horses'
condition did not improve. Detective Binkley advised
Defendant and her husband that they needed to provide more
hay for the horses. Detective Binkley told Defendant that her
horses were being underfed. Detective Binkley saw some hay at
the farm when he drove back by a few days later, but he did
not visit Defendant again until April 2015, when he responded
to another complaint about the horses. He testified that he
saw multiple malnourished horses, including the same
underweight horses that he had observed on his prior visit.
Detective Binkley was accompanied by Detective Tony Nichols
when he responded to the second call to Defendant's farm.
Detective Binkley did not see any hay or food in the
horses' pasture, and he testified that the pasture
"appeared to be more mud than anything."
Tony Nichols also testified that several of the horses were
underweight and had protruding bones and minimal fat or
muscle. Detective Nichols observed that the horses'
pasture was rocky, covered in weeds, and had no grass that
was appropriate for the horses. He testified that he saw no
signs of hay or other feed on the farm. Detective Nichols
informed Defendant that he intended to contact the county
extension agent, Ricky Skillington, to begin a removal
procedure to take the horses out of Defendant's care.
Defendant told Detective Nichols that she owned the horses
and she called them "her babies."
following day, Detective Nichols returned to Defendant's
farm with Detective Binkley and Agent Skillington. In
assessing the horses' condition, they determined that the
horses needed to be removed from the property. Agent
Skillington examined the horses and found "very little
evidence of feed, " and the horses were quickly
consuming whatever grass was growing. Agent Skillington also
examined the horses' manure to check for signs of
concentrated feed that sometimes survives the horses'
digestive tract, but he found no signs of feed whatsoever. He
found no hay in the feed pans and no signs of any recently
used feed bags.
Skillington used a metric called the Henneke body condition
score (BCS) to assess and examine the horses. According to
Agent Skillington, as a general rule, the agricultural
industry uses the Henneke BCS, developed at Texas A&M
University, which consists of a 1 to 9 scale used
specifically for horses. The optimum score is 5, while 1
indicates the horse is critically underweight and 9 indicates
it is severely overweight. Mr. Skillington testified that a
score of 4 to 6 is the industry standard and an indication
that the horse is healthy. The BCS was developed to get as
close as possible to a uniform system. Skillington declined
to score any of the horses any higher than a 3, with two
horses rating only a 1.5. According to Skillington, at a body
condition score of 1.5, "you could count every
individual vertebrae that they had along their
backbone." Skillington testified that the horses'
level of malnutrition was the cause for him to make his
determination. He testified that for a horse to lose weight
in that manner, it would have to have taken place over an
extended period of time.
Emily McDonald, a veterinarian with the Gallatin Animal
Hospital, testified as an expert witness in the field of
veterinary science. Dr. McDonald also examines and treats
animals for the Volunteer Equine Advocates (VEA), a
non-profit organization which takes in rescued horses. Dr.
McDonald also used the Henneke BCS to evaluate
Defendant's horses. Dr. McDonald examined Defendant's
horses, and she agreed that a healthy horse should have a
body condition score between a 4 and 6. She found that all of
Defendant's horses had a body condition score between 1
and 2, and that underfeeding was the best explanation for
such a condition. She also testified that this kind of
malnutrition required a progression of six to eight months
and could not have taken place just recently. She believed
there were signs of long term starvation.
the eight horses on Defendant's farm was designated by
name. Mary, a pregnant mare, was given a BCS of 1, based on a
lack of food, and she had visible bones in her ribs, spine,
neck, and hips. Mary was the horse elected by the State as
the subject animal in the single count of animal cruelty. Dr.
McDonald testified that it would take a horse five to six
months to get in the shape that Mary was in. VEA removed the
horses on April 6, 2015. Mary gave birth to an undersized
foal soon after her removal. The foal was determined to have
low weight due to mare malnutrition.
Skillington and Dr. McDonald both testified about the effect
a harsh winter can have on a horse's weight. They
testified that a horse is unlikely to drop more than one body
condition score over the course of a hard winter. Even if a
horse had a substantial winter coat, indicators of
malnourishment would be visible, such as protruding bones.
Dr. McDonald testified that after their removal, all of the
horses properly regained their weight and had body condition
scores of 4.5 and higher.
proof consisted of the testimony of two witnesses.
Defendant's neighbor, Bert Smith, testified that he sold
hay to Defendant in January 2015. In late January, he
delivered two 1600-pound bales of hay. Defendant returned for
more hay about one week later, and he provided Defendant two
more bales of hay. Mr. Smith continued providing hay for
Defendant until the horses were removed in April 2015. Mr.
Smith testified that he did not know whether Defendant fed
the hay to the horses. ...