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Mertzes found guilty on 17 of 19 counts of animal neglect

NEW ULM — After nearly five hours of deliberation Friday, a jury of four men and two women found Cassey and Corrine Mertz of rural Sleepy Eye guilty of 17 of 19 counts of animal mistreatment in Brown County District Court.

Eighteen of the 19 original counts were misdemeanor charges. One count was a gross misdemeanor charge that included substantial bodily harm. The Mertzes were found not guilty on that count.

Cassey Metz will be sentenced at 9 a.m., Friday, July 5 in Brown County District Court. Corrine Mertz will be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. July 5.

“It’s my understanding that so many of these cases go overlooked,” said Deputy Brown County Attorney Jill Jensen. “I’m very grateful to the Brown County Attorney’s and Brown County Sheriff’s Offices for removing the horses. I think it sends a message that we will prosecute anyone who neglects their animals.”

The verdict ended a three-day jury trial that included expert testimony from three veterinarians; an animal rescue foundation director, a Brown County Sheriff’s Deputy and 911 dispatcher. The Mertzes did not testify at the trial.

Drew Fitzpatrick, the animal rescue foundation director, said four of Mertzes’ five Morgan horses brought to the facility in Zimmerman remain alive and well in that organization’s care. Four miniature ponies the Mertzes owned were adopted by new owners.

Deputy Brown County Attorney Dan Kalk said the horses were described by two veterinarians as “emaciated, starving, dehydrated, with muscle atrophy, lice, foot issues and some with long-term respiratory ailments.

“The defense’s claim that the Brown County Sheriff’s Office just wanted to come and take the horses away is simply not true,” Kalk said. “They were taken away because of their condition, their neglect. Then there were the distractions, like it’s normal for horses to eat their own manure. No, only if they’re starving. Muscle atrophy took place due to malnutrition and starvation.”

Kalk showed photos of the five Morgan horses before they were transported from the Mertz farm and after they received months of care at the animal rescue foundation.

“There is a stark contrast between the two,” Kalk said. “I think the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the horses have been denied adequate food, water and shelter. I ask that you return a guilty verdict on all counts.”

Cassey Mertz’ attorney, James Kuettner of Mankato said the Mertzes were following orders from their veterinarian, Dr. Shirley Kittleson.

“She said some of the horses looked thin and could use an extra meal. So could I,” Kuettner said. “Your opinion is what counts most. You heard about a bale of hay and a creek that were near the horses. The Mertzes restricted their horses access to hay, following doctor’s orders. Does this get beyond a reasonable doubt? Yes, we can say for sure. The horses were not picture perfect but they were not neglected and denied adequate shelter, food and water.”

Corrine Mertz’ attorney, Steve Groschen of Mankato said the case is about neglect and deprivation of adequate food, water and shelter.

He cited Kittleson’s testimony that the horses were not neglected or denied food, shelter and water.

“She was the Mertz’ veterinarian for 30 years,” Groschen said.

The cost of caring for the horses in the case is $6,895. More costs will be incurred and will be part of an ultimate restitution filed and due, according to the Brown County Attorney’s Office.

fbusch@nujournal.com

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