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A Carbon County judge this week turned down a request for a public defender for Jack and Terry Martin, a couple charged with multiple felony counts of animal abuse.

At a hearing Thursday in Red Lodge, District Court Judge Blair Jones noted that the Yellowstone County Defender’s Office turned down the couple’s first request for a court-appointed attorney, saying they had too many assets.

“He (Jack Martin) simply told the court they would have to sell their land to hire an attorney,” Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon said.

The Martins moved to Montana from Washington state three years ago and purchased a 253-acre ranch along Sand Creek between Bridger and Fromberg. Jack Martin told the judge that private attorneys estimated their defense would cost $40,000 to $60,000.

On Feb. 4, Nixon accused the couple of starving half of their estimated 63 horses and charged them individually with 26 felony counts and one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty.

In separate pleas on Feb. 25, the Martins pleaded not guilty to all charges and were released without bail after agreeing to several conditions: to start caring for the horses, to transfer all firearms to relatives for safekeeping and to refrain from discussing the court case with potential witnesses or each other.

If convicted on all counts, the Martins face a maximum of 53 years in prison and $66,000 in fines. Their Red Lodge trial is scheduled for July 18.

The horses have been eating donated hay since early February.

Diane Zook, founder and executive director of the Beartooth Humane Alliance in Red Lodge, said her organization has delivered 67 tons of donated hay to the Martin’s ranch so far.

“BHA procures and delivers the donations of hay. Then the Martins actually are doing the feeding,” she said.

The Alliance has $3,200 in pledges so far and enough hay to last through July 1, she said.

The Carbon County Sheriff’s deputies drive out to the ranch a couple of times a week to check on the horses, Zook said, and Lt. Josh McQuillan said the horses are in better condition now.

“I understand they are filling out and showing more activity, probably because they are healthier,” Zook said.

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com or 406-657-1306.

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