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Cattle shooting charges stick, judge says

A judge has refused to drop the main charges against psychiatrist Joel Rice, who has admitted shooting several cattle near his La Grande, Ore., home. However, he has said he would dismiss other charges because Rice had paid the cattle owners as part of a settlement.
Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published on January 21, 2014 11:04AM

Joel Rice

Joel Rice

Criminal charges of aggravated animal abuse will proceed against an eastern Oregon psychiatrist who killed several cattle last year.

Joel Rice, 56, must face prosecution for shooting the cows even though he paid the owners $47,500 in compensation, according to a state judge.

Circuit Court Judge Lung S. Hung found the aggravated animal abuse charges against Rice can’t be dropped as part of a “civil compromise.”

The alleged offense was committed against the public, not just the cattle owners, the judge said.

The goal of criminalizing animal abuse “isn’t just to punish property damage,” said Hung.

The law recognizes a social benefit in protecting animals from unnecessary pain, he said.

The judge compared the offense to reckless driving — a defendant driving 100 mph is subject to this charge even if his actions injure nobody.

“You can’t buy your way out of cruelly or maliciously killing or torturing your own animals, so it makes no sense to allow others to do it,” Hung said.

However, the judge said that he would dismiss multiple criminal mischief charges against Rice due to the financial settlement with cattle owners.

In August 2013, Rice shot seven cows that had wandered onto his property near La Grande, Ore., and all but one animal died of the injuries.

Wes Williams, attorney for the defendant, said the cattle owners have signed an agreement not to seek prosecution against Rice.

If they are forced to testify during the criminal trial, the cattle owners may be in violation of that deal, he said.

“There is no reason to have a long, expensive, contentious litigation. They have resolved it,” the defense attorney said.

A felony conviction may have broader negative consequences, as Rice operates several homes for recovering addicts and is the only area physician certified to prescribe suboxone, a heroin treatment drug, he said.

“If he loses his license to practice medicine, there’s going to be a fallback and a harm to our community at large,” the attorney said.

Mona Williams, the prosecutor in the case, challenged the argument that the financial settlement should have any influence on the criminal charges.

“I made the decision to prosecute this case, not these cattle owners,” she said.

Rice must be held accountable for the animals’ pain and suffering, particularly since they didn’t die immediately, the prosecutor said.

“He made no effort to minimize that or make their suffering any less,” she said.

The defendant shot the cows in the torso, not the head, and an injured calf was allowed to suffer for days before it was euthanized, she said.

“They were not just dispatched,” the prosecutor said.

The prosecutor said that if Rice had shot the cattle in the head and immediately notified the owners, “we probably wouldn’t even be here.”

However, Rice didn’t admit to the shooting or apologize until the “jig is up,” she said.

Ammunition casings also were not found at the scene, she said. If the cattle owners had not found a bullet in the injured calf, the shooting may have gone unreported.

“He basically covered up what he had done,” the prosecutor said.


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