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Dead horses on the Fort Peck Reservation

Four horses lay dead from dehydration on the Fort Peck Reservation.

A jury in Roosevelt County has acquitted a Poplar man of six animal cruelty charges after prosecutors accused him of being responsible for the deaths of 15 horses found in a pasture north of Wolf Point in August.

A 12-person jury on March 14 found Richard Dean Holen, 59, not guilty on one count of felony aggravated animal cruelty and on five charges of misdemeanor cruelty to animals, after a day-long trial in Roosevelt County District Court.

The Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Peck Tribe’s Department of Fish and Game began investigating the dead animals after a tribal council member alerted the authorities. Photos of the carcasses, shared widely at the time on social media, showed them in various stages of decay, scattered throughout a field.

Holen was charged in October after the owner of the horses, Kari Delagrave, told investigators she had entrusted the care of 49 of her horses to Holen, according to charging documents. She stated that eight of the horses were given to Holen as payment, three were recovered after Holen sold them and 10 were found dead, leaving 28 horses unaccounted for.

Sheriff Jason Frederick noted “plenty of food for the horses,” but there was no water available at the site, the charges stated. A Glasgow veterinarian who examined the horses’ bodies told a Roosevelt County Sheriff’s detective that the horses appeared to have died five to 20 days before they were discovered and that they had most likely died from dehydration.

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Billings-based attorney Layne Scheveck, who represented Holen, argued that Delagrave had instead been the sole caretaker of the animals; Holen had simply allowed her to keep the horses on land he was leasing.

“Basically, she just failed to take care of her own horses,” Scheveck said in an interview Monday. “She was just going after Richard because he’s helped her in the past.”

Scheveck added that Delagrave had provided conflicting accounts of her responsibility for the horses, and that a witness called by the defense testified that Delagrave had expressed remorse for not caring for the animals after they were discovered.

Roosevelt County Attorney Austin Knudsen was not available for comment Monday afternoon, according to his office.

If convicted, Holen would have faced up to two years in prison or a $2,500 fine for aggravated cruelty to animals, and up to one year in prison or a $1,000 fine for each count of misdemeanor cruelty to animals.

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