Loma man convicted on 34 counts of animal abuse
UPDATED, 8:45 a.m. Wednesday:
A jury in County Court Judge Craig Henderson’s courtroom Tuesday night returned guilty verdicts on 34 of 40 counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals against 45-year-old John Lawton of Loma. The verdict was announced around 8 p.m.
Lawton, who is not in custody, is scheduled to be sentenced May 10.
A two-day criminal trial in Mesa County about Mandy, Nellie, Nita, Nikki—cows who died a famished death under the care of John Lawton of Loma—started on Monday with talk about Ezekiel.
Lawton, 45, was “not your usual farmer,” public defender Stephanie Fairbanks told jurors during opening statements.
“The Bible teaches him not to abandon the sick,” Fairbanks said, reciting text from the 24th chapter of the Old Testament book.
Lawton, who testified in his own defense against 40 counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals, offered partly religious grounds for his refusal to accept outside care, or to sell off parts of his herd, during the spring of 2012. The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department on April 3, 2012, obtained a warrant to seize 61 cows from Lawton’s property at 1320 12 1/4 Road.
“It’s only right to God ... he’s the giver of life,” Lawton said of his efforts to care for his ailing cattle despite overwhelming evidence the animals weren’t eating enough.
Lawton told the jury arrangements he’d made with another man to move the animals to another pasture fell apart at the last minute.
Jurors on Tuesday night started deliberations in Lawton’s trial after hearing two days of testimony.
A deputy who responded to Lawton’s home on April 3, 2012, described seeing several dead, rotting cows, including one abandoned as apparent pet food. Lawton explained at least one of the many carcasses in his field remained there so his cats could eat off it, according to court records.
He offered another reason for not burying the animals during testimony Tuesday: He was waiting.
“Bones were easier,” he said. “I don’t have to dig as big a hole if they’re just bones.”
Deputies described seeing cattle—some tied to abandoned vehicles on the property—so underweight the outline of their ribs were exposed. Dr. Ed Kline, an expert who testified Monday, estimated 65 percent of Lawton’s herd was malnourished,
“Did you like seeing them like this?” Fairbanks asked during direct examination.
“No,” Lawton responded, at times choked with emotion. “I cared for them.”
He said he wanted to keep around several of the underweight cows because of a promise he’d made to donate them to a local church food bank, Lawton testified.
While cattle prices were rising in the spring of 2012, Deputy District Attorney Brian Fuselier said Lawton had the opportunity to reduce the herd by selling several of them off, affording him the chance to buy more and better food sources.
Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said the animals seized on Lawton’s property were sold by the county, with proceeds totaling $29,924. Most of that was spent on care, feed and housing for the animals, she said. Some $9,411 remaining from the sale is being held in a liability account, pending resolution of Lawton’s trial, Benjamin said.
Dr. Dan Love, a veterinarian who testified as a prosecution expert, said visits to Lawton’s property revealed he treated the animals like his children. Lawton recited names when asked to view photos of the dead animals during his testimony.
Mandy, he recalled, had a good appetite.
“She was a good cow,” Lawton said.