published Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Judge places limits on horse trainer facing horse soring charges

Horse trainer Jackie McConnell, right, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Courthouse downtown with his attorney Hugh Moore.
Horse trainer Jackie McConnell, right, leaves the Joel W. Solomon Federal Courthouse downtown with his attorney Hugh Moore.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A 60-year-old Tennessee walking horse trainer charged in a lengthy federal indictment of abusing horses may remain free before his trial, but he cannot train horses owned by others.

Jackie McConnell, of Collierville, Tenn., faces a 52-count indictment involving charges of conspiracy and violations of the U.S. Horse Protection Act.

Federal defendants in nonviolent criminal cases commonly are allowed to remain free with little restriction as they prepare for trial.

But new details filed Friday morning, hours before McConnell's hearing in federal court, alarmed U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Carter enough that he asked attorneys to find a compromise in order for McConnell to keep his freedom.

"The court is concerned there is an ongoing, consistent kind of problem," Carter told the attorneys.

One of the charges against McConnell is for horse soring, the technique of using chemical or mechanical means such as kerosene or bolts to tenderize horses' feet, producing an exaggerated gait for walking horse shows.

"Your client is not entitled to be out on bond where he can injure an animal," Carter said Friday. "I can't have horse soring and, if we have horse soring, I will put him in jail."

Two local attorneys hired by McConnell, Hugh Moore and Tom Greenholtz, argued in a March 15 hearing before Carter that, in order for their client to remain free on alleged charges, he shouldn't have to allow warrantless searches by investigators and also stop training horses he doesn't own, conditions that prosecutors want.

Three other co-defendants -- Jeff Dockery, 56; John Mays, 47; and Joseph Abernathy, 29 -- face some of the charges in the indictment as McConnell. On March 15, those three were released under many of the same conditions offered McConnell. Their trial is set for May 22.

Dockery and Abernathy are Collierville residents, while Mays is from Olive Branch, Miss.

McConnell faces the most charges and is depicted as the leader of a scheme to sore Tennessee walking horses before and during shows from 2006 until 2011. During the time of the alleged soring, McConnell was on a five-year suspension for previous soring-related violations, and he's accused of showing the animals in competitions by using the names of other men on his entry forms.

It was not his first suspension. In a 12-page brief to support restrictions in return for McConnell's freedom, prosecutors alleged that he had been suspended from the horse industry at least 13 times since 1979. One suspension took place on Sept. 9, 1985, the year before he was named "Trainer of the Year" by the national Walking Horse Trainers Association.

While Carter dealt with other cases on his docket on Friday, prosecutors Steve Neff and Kent Anderson negotiated with Moore and Greenholtz over restrictions for McConnell.

Among the agreed conditions, both the horse trainer and the federal government will each select a veterinarian to inspect his horses. The veterinarians will produce a report on the animals' condition, then perform weekly inspections of the horses as long as McConnell remains free awaiting trial.

He's not allowed to train any horses he does not own.

In return, investigators must obtain a warrant or have probable cause to search McConnell's property, as they would under most circumstances.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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