Animal cruelty charges dropped against couple
By: Chris Menees Messenger Staff Reporter
By CHRIS MENEES
Messenger Staff Reporter
All charges have been dis-missed against an Obion County couple accused of animal cruelty last summer.
James and Mary Jo Fair of Minnick-Elbridge Road appeared this morning in Obion County General Sessions Court for a hearing that had been continued in August 2007 after Judge Raymond Morris accepted an agreement between the prosecution and the defense.
The Fairs were each charged with 10 counts of cruelty to animals following an investigation launched by the Gibson-Obion County Humane Society, ASPCA, with the seizure of more than 100 dogs from their residence.
They were scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing Aug. 2, 2007, but a recommendation from District Attorney General Tommy Thomas’ office was instead presented to the court. As a result, the Fairs’ case was continued for six months, with one of the conditions being that their veterinarian, Dr. Bob Page of Dresden, agreed to inspect the dogs and their housing at least every 60 days, if not more often.
The Fairs’ attorney, Jim Powell, told the court at that time that he and the Fairs agreed with the state’s recommendation in order to bring the matter to an end, with the stipulation that the Fairs were not admitting any guilt or wrongdoing in the case.
At the end of the six-month period, the veterinarian’s written findings were to be submitted to the court for review and the case against the Fairs possibly dismissed if Page certified the animals were healthy and being provided reasonable care.
During this morning’s brief court appearance, Assistant District Attorney Heard Critchlow told the court that Page has provided written reports in the form of letters and has visited the Fairs’ kennel several times, finding it to be in good condition.
In a letter sent to Thomas on Dec. 31, a copy of which was obtained by The Messenger, Page reported he found all dogs and puppies “to be healthy and thriving,” with no signs of neglect or abuse, when he made an unannounced visit to the kennel on Dec. 21.
As an added precaution, the sheriff was also asked to visit the Fairs’ kennel and found the same conditions as reported by Page, according to Mrs. Critchlow, who moved to dismiss the charges against the Fairs.
Morris said he has served as a judge in Obion County for some 28 years, hearing hundreds of criminal cases that have included such violent and heinous crimes as murder and child rape, but he cannot remember any other case receiving as much publicity as the Fairs’ case. He said he realizes emotions become involved, especially where pets are concerned, but specifically noted the unusually high publicity in this matter.
The judge said he has received numerous letters over the past six months urging the court to prosecute the Fairs. He emphasized, however, that the court itself does not prosecute cases and said attempts to show a judge proof in a case are “very improper.” He said he has always tried to be fair and impartial in hearing cases. He also said he wants to make it perfectly clear that he, personally, loves animals.
Morris said he believes the district attorney is an honorable person who is interested in seeing justice.
He said based on the DA’s recommendation and the fact that the court finds no legitimate proof to deny it, he approves the recommendation to dismiss all charges against the Fairs.
Morris asked, however, that authorities check on whether the Fairs are running a business without a business license and said he would want them to comply with any laws pertaining to licensing.
After court, the Fairs declined to speak with the news media and opted to quietly leave the courthouse after speaking briefly with their attorney. Powell told The Messenger and other news media that the Fairs are just ordinary people who don’t like being in the public spotlight.
Powell emphasized that when the Fairs accepted the recommendation that resulted in the continuation of the case last August, it was without admitting any fault. He said the Fairs are innocent and he felt all along the case could have been won had it gone to trial, but his clients simply wanted the matter to end. He said he believes the entire case has been blown out of proportion.
He also emphasized that Page had been to the Fairs’ kennel several times and found no problems.
Powell said he believes officials with the Humane Society had “a hidden agenda,” but declined to elaborate or speculate on it, and said he believes they have put the Fairs through a considerable amount of stress.
Powell said he is still representing the Fairs in a civil lawsuit they have filed against the Humane Society. He said they believe the Humane Society violated the Fairs’ rights by coming onto their property and taking their property, specifically the dogs, as well as damaged their reputation “severely.” He noted that the Fairs have even suffered from health problems after the filing of the criminal charges.
He said the civil lawsuit pending in Obion County Circuit Court was actually filed prior to the criminal charges against the Fairs. He noted that no arrests were made the day the Humane Society came to the Fairs’ property and he said the criminal charges were filed after the civil action was filed by the Fairs.
He added that he believes the district attorney acted in a very professional manner and “did a wonderful job” under a considerable amount of pressure in investigating the allegations made against the Fairs.
Powell added that the Fairs “love animals” and will continue with the operation of their kennel. He said he is “very happy” for his clients in the wake of the criminal charges being dismissed today.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 1.10.08