A rural Decatur man convicted last year of multiple counts of cruelty to horses he owned and of failing to properly dispose of a dead horse was given 543 days in prison and 363 days in jail on Tuesday for violating probation.
Richard A. "Rick" Hill, 60, was sentenced by Adams Superior Court Judge Patrick R. Miller for disobeying judicial orders to have no contact with or possession of any "vertebrate animals."
Miller told Hill that, in regard to the judge's explicit orders in February of 2010, "you don't get it or you don't want to get it. You definitely were trying to find loopholes" in those orders.
Miller indicated that Hill's "demeanor" and periodic uncooperativeness in Tuesday's hearing showed a negative attitude to this case and to his probation.
The judge told Hill to serve the prison time first, then the jail term. There is no word yet on whether Hill will seek an appeal of the sentence.
The hearing opened with Adams County Prosecutor Chris Harvey questioning Hill, who admitted that a few months after being sentenced in February of 2010, he got permission from his probation officer, Rhonda McIntosh, to leave the state, although McIntosh later testified that Hill did not tell her truthfully what he planned to do.
Hill testified that he drove to Kentucky, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, and Ohio last summer as he collected four horses, including one that he had owned for some time and that he said Judge Miller had told him to get rid of.
Hill's attorney, Larry Mock of Bluffton, asked Hill to explain his reasoning about getting the horses and Hill said the judge said he would allow Hill to maintain his "shipping" business, in which Hill had transported horses by truck for many years.
Hill said he detected "ambiguity" in Judge Miller's orders, since it allowed him to do transport work, but said he could not own or possess animals, except for Hill's two pet dogs.
Harvey told Hill that the word "possess" means to have physical control over something and Hill admitted that he possessed the horses, saying, "They were on my trailer."
Mock tried to limit his client's admission by telling Judge Miller that Hill "had to push the envelope" and did not know that someone would find out and report him to McIntosh.
When Harvey asked Hill if McIntosh had told him specifically that he should have "no contact" with animals, Hill asked what "contact" means, saying, "The definition of 'contact' can be wide and varied."
Hill went on to say that his definition of "contact" means "working, training, caring" for animals on "a long-term basis."
McIntosh testified that she clearly told Hill the 19th order in the sentencing document from Judge Miller told him to refrain from contact with or possession of any "vertebrate animals."
She also said that when Hill asked for permission to leave Indiana, he said he wanted to obtain "household items" and mentioned only going to Kentucky and Colorado, not Utah, Kansas, and Ohio.
The veteran probation officer said she would never have given permission to leave the state if she has known that Hill would be gathering horses.
She added that at every meeting she had with Hill, he would argue with her about his case and about the probation rules.
When Harvey asked McIntosh if Hill "lied by omission," she said, "Yes" and agreed with Harvey's viewpoint that Hill tried to use what Hill perceived as Judge Miller's "ambiguity" to his advantage.
"I could see him doing that. He probably would," McIntosh said of Hill.
Harvey asked McIntosh if she thought Hill was "trying to twist whatever he can to his advantage" and she said, "Yes."
Hill said that what he did was "simpler, easier, and cost-effective."