Defense attorney files motion to have charge pending against Farmington resident thrown out

FARMINGTON — An appeal of Farmington Judge Morris Lew’s decision to throw out an animal cruelty charge last month is still a possibility for the Ontario County District Attorney’s Office. 

Assistant District Attorney Heather Hines said Thursday that she is still waiting on a transcript from last month’s trial of Farmington resident Terra Payne, before making any moves toward a possible appeal of the discarded charge.

An animal cruelty charge was filed roughly a year ago against Payne and Patrick Ryan following the death of a retired racehorse that spent time at their farm on Route 41. The couple are accused of failing to provide proper sustenance to the horse, named Dancing Timber. The animal was later euthanized due to its emaciated state.

With a possible appeal of the thrown-out charges still in limbo, defense attorney Tyson Blue has filed a motion with Lew to dismiss the remaining animal cruelty charge pending against Ryan. Ryan’s case is currently slated to go to trial on March 30 in Farmington Town Court.

The day after Payne’s charges were dismissed by Lew during the Feb. 28 trial, Blue filed the motion to have the charge against Ryan dismissed as well, prior to his approaching trial date. According to Hines, that dismissal is requested largely based on Payne’s trial outcome. 

On Thursday, Blue denied to comment on the pending case. 

The case came to light in February 2016 when Farmington resident Alexandra Hillegass adopted Dancing Timber from Ryan and Payne. Hillegass, who testified during the trial, said that the retired racehorse was suffering from malnourishment when she took it in. 

However, Payne has insisted that Dancing Timber was a “normal functioning animal” when the horse left her farm. 

“There was no cause for alarm,” Payne said at the Farmington courthouse following the Feb. 28 trial. 

Hillegass has stuck to the accusations of improper care of Dancing Timber tat the farm on Route 41. 

“When I first got her back to my farm, my vet came out and saw her and he told me that his recommendations was to put her down right away,” Hillegass said in March 2016. 

That veterinarian, Dr. Luis Perez, was called to the stand by Hines during the trial. He was the prosecutor’s final witness. Perez, from the Farmington Equine Associates, said Dancing Timber was eating and drinking when he first saw the horse, but the thoroughbred was also grossly emaciated. He testified that the horse’s state was most likely the result of the caregiver's failure to provide proper sustenance.

However, Payne’s defense counsel, which included attorneys Patrick Conklin and William Beck, worked to create a lack of certainty that a lack of proper sustenance was the cause of the horse’s state. They established with Perez that the horse’s condition also could be the result of cancer, kidney disease or another issue not known without deeper medical exploration. 

After Hines rested her case during the trial, Conklin requested that the judge dump the charge against Payne based on this uncertainty. Agreeing with the defense's assertion, Lew issued the trial order of dismissal, pointing out that Hines failed to prove that Dancing Timber had been deprived of proper nourishment, causing the animal’s emaciated state and subsequent death. 

“I was stunned,” Hines said on Thursday about the decision. “In the close to 15 years I’ve been working as a prosecutor, both here and in Monroe County, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a trial order of dismissal like that.”

Hines said the timing of the dismissal was unusual — as it is a decision the judge usually reserves — but the prosecutor also felt she had proven the elements of the animal cruelty charge against Payne.

“I wish he had put it to the jury, and then the jury could have made that decision,” Hines said. “But the judge made the ruling he did and we have to live with it, at least for now, unless we can appeal it.” 

Hines added that there will be a possible argument on March 27 in Farmington Town Court regarding the proposed dismissal of the remaining charge against Ryan that was filed by Blue.