S.C. man denies starving horses

Humane Society investigator Elizabeth Perry (right) assists investigator Melinda Merck with an excavation last March on property near Sumter. Investigators say they found horse remains on land once managed by former Assistant Agriculture Commissioner James Trexler, his brother Terry Trexler and mother Hazelene Trexler.

COLUMBIA — A man accused of starving horses is breaking nearly a year of silence to deny the allegations and bash prosecutors for what he contends are unjustified criminal charges.

"This case should never have been brought," Terry Trexler, a former lawyer and the brother of former S.C. Assistant Agriculture Commissioner James Trexler, said during an interview with The Associated Press. "I love animals. It's insulting to me to be accused of this because I've never done this."

James Trexler faces the same charges.

The Trexlers were accused in early 2008 of mistreating horses living on several parcels of land they either owned or managed. Authorities seized nearly four dozen horses the Trexlers owned, and they face misdemeanor and felony animal-abuse charges.

Terry Trexler said the case turned his family upside down. James Trexler, 49, resigned from his state post after he was charged with ill treatment of animals.

Besides the animal-abuse charges, Terry Trexler faces a kidnapping accusation stemming from his allegedly preventing a Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals worker from leaving property he and his mother leased. He said he considered it a citizen's arrest. Hazelene Trexler, 72, spent about two weeks in jail after her arrest.

While the two brothers and mother have pleaded not guilty, the family now hopes to clear its name by speaking publicly for the first time about an ordeal they say has been mishandled from the start.

"I'm the biggest animal lover in the world," said Terry Trexler, 45. "For anybody to tell me that I'm an animal abuser is an insult."

In all, 45 horses were seized from three parcels of land. Officials said the horses were underweight, and a spokeswoman for the Humane Society said no hay, typically what the animals are fed, could be found on the properties. Authorities also said five horses were found in stalls filled with manure and mud.

Terry and Hazelene Trexler also face animal-cruelty charges in Georgia, where authorities have said 25 of the Arabian horses seized in South Carolina had previously been placed under quarantine for suspicion that they had equine infectious anemia.

An official last year described some of the animals kept in Georgia as looking like someone "draped a hide over bones."

Terry Trexler declined to talk about the Georgia charges, but said not a single horse belonging to the family has ever been mistreated or underfed. He blamed a lack of hay on a regional hay shortage, and said the horses were instead being fed grain which, unlike hay, is parceled out to the animals and not left out.

"The whole Southeast was being murdered by hot, humid weather," Trexler said. "We were feeding those horses grain, and we were watering them."

Acting as his own attorney, Terry Trexler on Wednesday filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits against prosecutors, the Humane Society, a forensic veterinarian and the family's own attorneys.

Trexler, a former attorney, was disbarred by the state Supreme Court in 2001 for misconduct in several client cases and breach of trust, blackmail and conspiracy convictions.

In his federal complaint, Trexler said Solicitor Barney Giese and prosecutor Jill Andrews "maliciously conspired" to bring charges against the family.

"Defendants knew that these charges were completely and utterly unsupported by probable cause, and a total fabrication and distortion of facts that were readily available to them," the lawsuit said.

Trexler also said the law under which his family has been charged shouldn't apply to livestock animals, something he said is supported in an August 2008 opinion by state Attorney General Henry McMaster.

"If this wrong is not righted, no person in the livestock raising business is safe, particularly if the state suffers through another drought as bad as the one that occurred in 2007," Trexler said.

A spokesman for McMaster's office took issue with Trexler's assertion that the attorney general's opinion supported his claim. "The law clearly does not provide an exemption for the starvation of horses and other livestock, as the Trexlers are accused of doing," Mark Plowden said Thursday.

A similar lawsuit was filed in Richland County, where Giese is solicitor. Trexler also is suing his attorneys and the veterinarians hired to take care of the horses after they were seized, as well as officials with the Humane Society.

Trexler also disputes the findings of a forensic veterinarian who said in August that horses whose remains were found on land managed by the Trexlers likely starved to death.

Melinda Merck, a veterinarian with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Atlanta, said bone marrow fat levels in three of the 12 sets of horse bones were low enough to show the animals died of starvation.

Trexler said there's no proof that any of that marrow came from his family's horses, which grazed on land he said has served as a horse farm for centuries.

Merck's report does not say how long the bones had been in the ground, except for one adult horse skeleton, which she said was at least 2 years old.

Through spokeswomen, Giese's office and the ASPCA declined comment.

Humane Society spokeswoman Kelly Graham and Michael Privett, a veterinarian hired by the Humane Society to care for the seized animals, said they had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.