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Billings livestock breeder James Leachman argued Friday that an appeal of his guilty verdict should be granted because prosecutors never proved he owned the horses he was convicted of abusing.

After a seven-day jury trial in Yellowstone County Justice Court last December, a jury convicted Leachman of five counts of misdemeanor animal abuse.

Justice of the Peace Larry Herman then sentenced Leachman to serve five years in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility, with all but 120 days suspended and a $5,000 fine. Leachman was also prohibited from owning cattle or horses for the duration of the sentence.

Leachman, acting as his own attorney, quickly appealed the verdict to District Court.

He submitted his first brief supporting his appeal before District Judge Susan Watters two hours before Friday’s deadline.

Montana statute says a person can be accused of animal abuse for mistreatment or neglect by failing to provide for an animal “in the person’s custody.”

During his trial, prosecutors convinced the jury that five horses died painful deaths after Leachman placed plastic identification bands on their front legs, and then failed to adjust or remove the bands as the horses grew.

Expert witnesses at the trial said the leg bands were only used on dairy cattle. The horses, most carrying the Leachman Hairpin Cavvy brand, were among hundreds that he grazed on his former Home Place Ranch east of Billings on Crow Reservation land.

Two years ago, more than 800 Leachman horses were seized and sold by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for trespassing on tribal lands.

The Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office has until the end of the month to respond to Leachman’s appeal. Then Leachman has until June 14 to respond to their arguments.

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Business editor for the Billings Gazette.