BROOKVILLE – A Corsica man charged with animal cruelty for having more than one dozen emaciated horses in his care was sentenced to nearly one year in jail after being found guilty in District Court in Brookville Wednesday.
Leonard “Lenny” W. Hughes, 44, Corsica, was found guilty by specially presiding District Judge Dave Inzana of 13 of the 14 animal cruelty charges brought against him in late September by the Jefferson County humane officer.
One charge was dismissed because the seized horse did not belong to Hughes, but rather to his girlfriend Michelle Secka.
In total 14 witnesses were called during the nine hour summary trial.
Witnesses called by both the defense and prosecution shed some light on how so many horses fell into Hughes’ hands.
His estranged wife Tammy Hughes testified that the couple got their first horse in Sept. 2015 and then decided to get another horse as a companion.
And from there, it snowballed.
Tammy said her husband joined Pennswoods, a local online sales forum, as well as several Facebook groups where people bought, sold and traded horses. He then started to acquire horses listed for free or low prices.
“I asked him several times, please no more horses. Then he’d find another horse,” Tammy Hughes said. “It became like an obsession.”
Tammy said she continued to beg her husband to stop. Money was tight and because she had quickly become the sole caretaker for the deluge of animals on the property, she testified.
“I don’t believe he meant to starve them or that he did any of this on purpose,” said Tammy, who also admitted that when Jefferson County District Attorney Jeff Burkett showed her recent photographs of the horses that she broke down in tears.
“We did not have enough money to feed all these horses and raise six kids at home.”
On July 23, after a fight, Tammy would leave her husband and the horses behind.
Witness Sabrina Tost, a neighbor who had helped Tammy care for the horses, indicated that this was when the downward spiral began. She said from then on there were no more grain buckets sitting around and the horses would go to the trough to stand and stare.
Tost said once Tammy was gone she would sneak onto the property at night to feed the horses carrots and apples. From that point on she also began to make a flurry of anonymous calls to authorities in an attempt to advocate for the horses.
“The way they looked when they were seized – that’s uncalled for,” Tammy Hughes said. “None of those horses looked that way when I left.”
By comparison, the defense argued that when Hughes fell off of a horse in late August he broke several ribs and vertebrae. Bedridden, Hughes assigned the horse’s care to Secka, his children and some friends who regularly reported back to him.
Attorney Michael Bogush also stressed throughout the trial that Hughes was never contacted by humane officer Deborah McAndrew or other law enforcement about their concerns for the horses on his property at any time before serving a search warrant and seizing the horses.
While the defense continually argued that Hughes often saved sick and aging horses who were no longer wanted or being sent to slaughter, Casey Ball of Blairsville told a different story.
She posted an ad on Pennswoods to rehome the Belgian draft horse Stefanic found shot.
Known to Ball as “Survivor” because she had saved him from slaughter, in May 2016 the horse was deemed healthy by a vet and she met Hughes thinking it would be a good fit.
Ball works in the mental health field and feels that Hughes played on her emotions by telling her he was a disabled veteran. She would rehome several other horses with him.
During her testimony, Ball broke down into tears remembering how one of her horses, Jackson reared back and fought getting on the trailer to go with Hughes.
“I let him go because I thought that Lenny was a good person,” Ball said through tears.
Leading up to the seizure
Jefferson County humane officer Deborah McAndrew first visited the property at 1418 Howe Road in June after receiving complaints of a thin horse tied to a post. At that time she spoke to Tammy Hughes who said the horse only had three teeth
McAndrew continued to receive a slew of calls on her humane line about grossly thin horses on the property.
When she went to follow up on Aug. 30 and saw emaciated horses from the road with no visible food source. She spoke to Secka and told her to get hay and vet care, especially for a ghostly Belgian work horse called Patton.
On Sept. 3, while McAndrew was out of town she received a dispatch from the Punsutawney state police for a horse in Corsica that was down and barely breathing.
Margo Stefanic of Willow Run Animal Sanctuary went in her place to find the Belgian horse McAndrew had checked on lying on the ground with a bullet hole in its forehead.
Of the horse’s condition, Stefanic described it as “a carcass covered in skin.”
When veterinarian Dr. Emily Rapp saw the picture of Patton for the first time on the stand Wednesday her eyes pulsed widely in shock and she took a large breath before describing the body condition as “poor” and even adding that he was so thin that his head was concave because there was so little muscle.
On Sept. 14, McAndrew made one final visit to the Hughes property to see about eight emaciated horses in pastures with no visible food sources.
“At that point I felt that I tried to work with them,” McAndrew said. “I went to the District Attorney and District Judge for a search warrant.”
On the property
Defense witnesses like Steve Fyock lauded Hughes on his care of the horses.
While both defense witnesses Secka and her friend said that while the horses were skinny they weren’t emaciated.
While several people would come to the bench to testify on Hughes’ behalf, he himself never took the stand.
By comparison, Natalie Young who volunteered to photograph the scene during the Sept. 15 seize said she documented “bone dry” water troughs, pastures eaten to the dirt and horses with their ribs and spine showing. She
See Horses, Page A7
added that some of the horses were so emaciated that they had trouble standing and walking on wobbly, weak legs.
When the horses were seized they were transported to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and kept in the barns there. She recalls when the horses were brought there they would began drinking out of the five gallon buckets rapidly and eating all of the food that rescuers would give them.
“It was more than I’ve ever seen any horse drink,” Young recalled.
On the property there was also a horse graveyard which was seen by Stefanic and Tost. McAndrew added that she had received several calls about it.
“The last count I had there were 14 graves,” confirmed Tammy Hughes, which sent a gasp rippling through those present in the courtroom to watch the proceedings.
About the horses
While both veterinarians called to the stand had somewhat differing opinions about the condition of the Hughes horses, both could agree there were too many in the pastures.
Dr. Marin Boghean of Brookville was the first to assess the horses when they were brought to the fairgrounds.
Boghean who has performed vet services for Hughes in the past said the horses went from “very good to very bad” since he last rendered care in July.
It was Boghean’s opinion that four of the horses were skinny because of health conditions including issues with their teeth and heart.
“My conclusion is this, he fed the horses but didn’t give specialty care to the old horses and horses with special needs because he doesn’t have the resources to do that with so many,” Boghean said.
According to Boghean, at least two of the horses were in better than average condition.
Not making a report that day because Pennsylvania law does not require written records to be kept in the field of livestock assessments, Boghean testified from memory. He affirmed that he was correct even though Burkett argued he was mistaken, according to the notes McAndrew made that day.
Dr. Emily Rapp of Punxsutawney assessed the horses several days after they were seized.
All of the 13 horses that she assessed had bite marks, scabs and scars on them from the group trying to establish a pecking order for resources.
Rapp said days after they were seized she examined the horses to find many had eye discharge and poor body condition. Some had rain rot, hoof issues, and had their hair falling out.
One horse had a halter that had become embedded in his skin because it was too small.
Ultimately, three of the seized horses were euthanized.
With no specialized care and being only fed a basic diet, the remaining horses are starting to thrive and bounce back.
Rapp said now that the horses are eating and drinking regularly there are improvements in their bodies and demeanor.
“They went from being hang-headed and their eyes being lifeless to this time they were spunky and sassy and seeking attention,” Rapp said of her Nov. 19 assessment. “It was totally different.”
“The basic necessities were definitely lacking.”
While Inzana admitted he wasn’t “a horse guy,” before he made his judgment he said, “When I see pictures like that I say I don’t know anything about horses but that doesn’t look like a horse to me. No one is caring for those animals.”
Inzana added that while Bogush argued Hughes was an animal rescue there was no paperwork to prove it.
“There’s a big difference between people who are really rescuers and people in court saying they’re rescuers,” Inzana said.
Inzana sentenced Hughes to 90 days of jail for each of the four counts in which the horse died in his care.
His jail sentence will begin Dec. 30, leaving him time to appeal.
For the other counts he received a total of two years and three months probation with a condition that he is not permitted to own, possess, be in custody of or care for animals during that period.
He also was handed an additional animal prohibition of three years and three months, as well as total fines, cost and restitution of $10,000.
“We think this ruling was favorable. It was a win for the animals and it avenges the deceased,” Stefanic said. “We’re proud to live in a county that cares about their animals.”