Shelby Co. jury finds former deputy not guilty of horse neglect

CENTER, TX (KTRE) - A Shelby County jury has found a former deputy not guilty of neglecting his horse that died earlier this year. McAvoy was accused in the death of his horse earlier this year.

Like the trial of a Center Police detective last month, a judge granted a directed verdict of not guilty on a felony charge. A visiting judge issued the same directed verdict in October for Center Police Detective Joey Haley, who was charged with aggravated perjury.

Shelby County Judge Guy Griffin granted the defense's motion Tuesday afternoon for the former deputy charged with felony animal neglect.  Typically, the judge orders a directed verdict after finding that no reasonable jury could reach a decision to the contrary.

Defense Attorney Skeet DesChamps made the motion based on a previous case that states denial of feed water and care is not considered torture.

However, Mark McAvoy was still tried on a misdemeanor charge. The jury handed down the not guilty verdict for Mark McAvoy of a misdemeanor charge of failing to provide food, water and care for an animal after about two hours of deliberations.

Upon hearing the verdict, Mark McAvoy teared up in relief.

"I'm just happy it's over with," said McAvoy soon after hearing the verdict. "I never killed my horse. Nor tortured my horses. It was all a vendetta from the sheriff of Shelby County."

Mcavoy had been fired by Sheriff Newton Johnson earlier this year.

The former deputy has always claimed the charges against him were a form of retaliation. Reasons for thinking so were never revealed during his own testimony, but they came out afterwards.

"I had an incident with him when he was intoxicated," claims McAvoy.

After the trial the sheriff said, "A disgruntled employee can say anything. What Mark is saying just isn't true."

"Mr. McAvoy has been through, put through Holy Hell," said defense attorney Skeet DesChamps after the verdict was returned.

He argued the case was built on assumptions. The jury got lessons in animal husbandry from a horse trainer citing all the reasons a horse could die. The state offered rebuttal with a veterinarian, but he too provided no definite conclusions as why a horse would die.

DesChamps then directed his argument as a tool for bringing change to Shelby County. He told the jury their verdict of not guilty sends a message about changing what's wrong with Shelby County.

"Shelby County has got some officials that are out of control," said DesChamps after the trial.  "And I hope this message will send a loud and clear message to each and everyone of those individuals that they can't do just what they want to do and they ought to remember that the people who gave them that job can certainly take it away."

DesChamps plans to run for district attorney. So does attorney Stephen Shires. He had his first experience as a prosecutor while serving as pro tem district attorney.

He argued before the jury that the case, "Wasn't about a district attorney race or a race for sheriff."

"Again, I thought Mr. McAvoy was guilty of this charge," said Shires following the jury decision. "I wouldn't have brought this case if I didn't, but sometimes things just don't go the way you want them to."

McAvoy knows all about that over recent months.

Shelby County spent thousands of tax payer dollars to return McAvoy from Connecticut back to Texas for this trial.

He also spent over 60 days in jail until a previously set $100,000 bond was reduced to a much lower personal recognizance bond.

"My wife tried to kill herself five times," claims McAvoy. "I lost my truck. I lost my wife's car. We lost buying a house we had. Lost everything we had in household storage. Now, I got to put my life back together."

McAvoy plans to return to Connecticut where he was living when the warrant for his arrest was issued.

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