By Hayden Godfrey
Uinta County Herald
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
EVANSTON — A 38-year-old Evanston resident has been found guilty of felony animal cruelty after a three-day jury trial. Justin Berry, who was accused of shooting multiple horses on a property in Evanston in 2020, was tried for multiple charges June 7-9, in Third District Court.
According to a sworn affidavit, Uinta County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Calvin Robinson arrived at an address on Wasatch Road on July 1, 2020, after a horse was found dead with a gunshot wound near the ribs.
The owner of the horse, Kay Dunford, reportedly found the horse deceased before making a call to law enforcement. Local veterinarian James Bechaver was present at the scene, court documents state.
According to Dunford, the mare had been alive the previous evening. Blood seemed to have run down her front leg and from her mouth. A second horse was reported by Dunford to have a similar wound, but ultimately survived.
Bechaver, according to the report, found the horse’s chest cavity filled with blood, and one of the lungs had experienced trauma. Bechaver found a bullet after draining the wound, verifying that the horse died from a gunshot wound. The bullet was collected as evidence.
Dunford told authorities that the dead mare was at the time raising a foal and had once been a racing horse worth at least $6,000, not accounting for any future offspring’s potential value.
Robinson returned to the same address on July 3, after Dunford reported another possible gunshot wound on a third horse that had been ill for about 10 days.
He said he had searched for the wound after discovering two of his horses had been shot. Court documents state the horse was diagnosed with peritonitis, related to an abdominal hole or rupture. That horse eventually died of its injury and infection, according to the affidavit, and Bechaver discovered two bullets in its abdomen.
This horse was also raising a foal and had an estimated value of $15,000, according to the affidavit.
Deputies questioned nearby residents to gather evidence, but to no avail. Neighbors reportedly said it was typical to hear gunshots and fireworks in the surrounding area.
On the evening of July 3, 2020, after the third horse’s injuries were identified, deputies in the area encountered Kim Putnam feeding the horses. He told deputies that Berry had come out of a nearby house yelling at him in May of 2020, as he was repairing a fence on the property.
Later, Putnam said, he heard a gunshot from the direction of Berry’s property.
Deputy Kerby Barker used this information to obtain a search warrant for Berry’s residence.
When deputies arrived, Berry refused to speak, but Erin Mielke, his wife, told the deputies that Berry had had a conflict with the neighbors behind their house. She said Berry had gotten irritated by a rumor that Putnam was planning on putting about 150 horses on the property behind the Berry residence.
When Berry spoke to deputies, he allegedly recalled interacting with Putnam, but denied shooting at the horses. He claimed he had been shooting a .22 rifle in his backyard.
A search of the home found multiple firearms and ammunition, including a Ruger .22 rifle.
The weapons and ammunition were sent, along with the bullets found in the horses, to the Wyoming State Crime Lab to be analyzed. The lab took several months to receive results; but on Jan. 20, the sheriff’s office was informed that the bullets found inside the second horse had been “identified as having been fired from the Ruger rifle” found in Berry’s residence.
The bullet from the first horse lacked markings capable of identifying it as having been from the rifle.
Berry was charged with three counts of felony animal cruelty, each carrying a maximum two-year prison sentence and a possible $5,000 fine.
The jury found that Berry was not guilty on the first two counts, but he was convicted on the third. Berry will face up to two years in prison, a maximum fine of $5,000 or both for the crime. Berry was booked at the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office on June 9 and now awaits sentencing.