Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Rodney Kankey of Viola is upset that Prosecutor Don McSpadden has decided to take him to trial on 118 counts of animal abuse after all, and frustrated that the trial date has been moved from December to May 2014. Kankey denies that he neglected horses on his farm, and said he is confident he will be found innocent. Photo/Richard Irby

After confirming last month that 118 counts of animal cruelty against Rodney Kankey would likely be dismissed because of problems with the case, 16th Judicial District Prosecutor Don McSpadden has reversed himself. McSpadden has taken the case from Deputy Prosecutor Dwayne Plumlee, who did not want to pursue it, and intends to personally serve as prosecutor at trial.

McSpadden appeared in Fulton County Circuit Court on Thursday, Nov. 14 for a pretrial conference to make sure everything was ready for the trial scheduled for Dec. 16. Defense attorney John Russo accompanied Kankey, a Viola area resident who was charged with neglecting more than 100 horses to the point that the Humane Society and ASPCA obtained court permission to care for the horses, and move them to a shelter in Mountain Home. After months of expensive care, the animal protection agencies were finally given permission to adopt the horses out to loving homes.

Russo, who praised McSpadden for the initial decision not to go to trial, was not happy when McSpadden asked to delay the trial because an ASPCA veterinarian from New York, who had examined three dead horses found on Kankey's farm and concluded they had died of starvation, was going to be out of the country and unavailable to testify in December.

Russo objected saying the December trial date had been set for months, critical defense witnesses had been issued subpoenas and to seek a delay on the "eve of the trial" was unacceptable.

After the objection was made, Judge Tim Weaver noted that past trial delays had been requested by the defense, and not allowing the continuance "would be an injustice to the state's case." Weaver set aside the week of May 12, 2014 for the trial. A pretrial hearing will be held on May 12, with the trial taking place May 13, 14 and 15. "I want every witness notified within 10 days that that's when they are to be here," Weaver said to the attorneys. "This case will not be continued again."

Because of the six month trial delay, Russo made a request of the judge, saying that Kankey, who has been free on bond, has always been present for court appearances. Russo proposed that Kankey be released on his own recognizance so that a $25,000 cash bond could be returned to his parents who posted it. "I think he's earned that," Russo said.

Judge Weaver was not sympathetic. "He's been a nuisance. He's caused problems in the community," Weaver said, threatening to revoke Kankey's bond, not release it. The judge then raised his voice after seeing Kankey's reaction. "Do you hear me Mr. Kankey? If you roll your eyes at me one more time or act like you're disgusted by these proceedings, you're going to go over there with these folks [jail inmates sitting in the courtroom] and you're going to spend the rest of your time in jail until this trial," Weaver said, adding that any more complaints about Kankey from people in the community would not be tolerated. "I don't care what it is. The rest of us don't go around acting crazy," the judge said.

At the hearing, Prosecutor McSpadden offered to meet with Russo to go over the witness list, and indicated that he would provide the defense with a copy of a power point presentation that a Humane Society witness intends to make during the trial. McSpadden recently issued 37 subpoenas to potential witnesses.

As the hearing ended, Kankey, still standing before the judge, began protesting the trial delay to his attorney. "I am broke. I don't have a dime. The bank will not loan me money to start my business back with this case hanging over my head," Kankey said, before Judge Weaver cut him off saying he should discuss matters with his attorney in private.

"Sorry, judge," Kankey said as he walked away.

"Tell that vet, "Thanks," Judge Weaver said, clearly frustrated that the case, which was delayed for nearly three years by court appeals by Kankey, has been delayed yet again.

While McSpadden had said he expected to follow his deputy's recommendation not to go to trial, the pretrial and trial dates remained on the court docket, because McSpadden said he intended to "look at and weigh the case" himself. The Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA, who investigated the animal cruelty case and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars nursing the horses back to health and caring for them, had urged McSpadden to meet with them to go over the case file. The animal protection agencies appear to be working with McSpadden's office, since he indicated in court some of their employees will be among trial witnesses.

The news that McSpadden is pursuing the case is sure to receive wide community support. Word that charges were going to be dropped, produced many angry calls and social media comments critical of the prosecutor's office. A weekly poll question at areawidenews.com asking, "Should Rodney Kankey of Viola be prosecuted for 118 counts of animal cruelty involving neglect of horses he owned?" produced 87 responses, a higher than normal response. 71 percent of voters said 'yes,' Kankey should be prosecuted. 24 percent said, 'no,' with 4 percent undecided.

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