Problems mount for Delta County couple after horse dies

Charles and Patricia Keune leave Delta County Court after pleading guilty Wednesday to a single count of animal cruelty after a horse died on their property on Redlands Mesa in Delta County.

A Delta County couple faces arraignment next month on nearly a dozen animal-cruelty charges after pleading guilty Wednesday to a single cruelty count involving the death of one of the couple’s horses.

Charles, 49, and Patricia Keune, 54, offered their guilty pleas under an agreement with prosecutors under which the charges involving the dead horse will be dropped if they have no further run-ins with the law for two years.

The agreement is to be made final April 4, the day on which County Judge Sandra K. Miller is to decide whether the couple should have to take anger-management classes as a condition of the plea agreement. That also is to be the day of their first appearance on the new charges.

Delta County Undersheriff Mark Taylor said he served the Keunes with summonses on the new charges before they appeared Wednesday in front of Miller.

Animal cruelty is a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries a possible two-year jail sentence. 

In accepting the deferred judgment, the Keunes also agreed to forfeit five horses and six cattle taken Tuesday from their residence on Redlands Mesa at 13244 Road 2900 in Delta County.

The Keunes had little choice other than to agree to forfeit the animals, Patricia Keune said after the hearing, because they would have had to pay $1,400 within 10 days and still have been under court order to own no livestock.

“I’m in a Catch-22,” Patricia Keune said.

The couple couldn’t come up with that kind of money in any case, Patricia Keune said, as she referred to the animals as “my babies.”

Patricia Keune, who said she has raised animals since her childhood, said she had sought donations of hay for her animals from neighbors, but to no avail.

Charles Keune, who described himself as a farmer now working in coal mines, told the judge he left a horse near death without food or water on the advice of a renderer, whom he had called to pick up the animal as it lay.

The renderer, April Wilson, said in an interview she was called by Patricia Keune on March 12 to collect a dead animal. Wilson met with Charles Keune on his property, she said, but she didn’t collect a carcass.

The horse, an emaciated thoroughbred chestnut gelding that later weighed in at 820 pounds, or 400 pounds less than a healthy animal, “rose up on his chest” as she approached, Wilson said.

“I didn’t pick him up because he wasn’t dead,” Wilson said.

The horse, in fact, ate some hay from her hand and otherwise appeared alert, if malnourished.

“He was eating, he was hungry,” Wilson said.

If she had the proper equipment, she would have taken the horse with her, Wilson said.

Instead, Wilson told Keune to feed and water the horse. Keune replied that he would give the horse until the next day to recover, and after being advised to provide water, walked back into his house, Wilson said.

Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee said his deputies also advised the Keunes how to care for their livestock when they were called regarding the same horse.

“It was just obvious to us recommendations weren’t followed,” McKee said.

Patricia Keune called her the next day and asked her to collect the horse, which Wilson refused to do when Keune told her the horse wasn’t dead, Wilson said.

Patricia Keune called back a few hours later and told her the horse was dead, Wilson said. On that trip, she did pick up a carcass, which she delivered to the landfill, Wilson said.

Charles Keune told the judge the circumstances around the death of the horse and the condition of his other livestock “were not quite as bad as it appears.”

“When you’re 20 years old and you’re a horse, sometimes it’s your time,” Charles Keune said.

The Keunes had multiple opportunities to provide their livestock with hay, Brenda Miller and Kris Dahlstrom said. Miller and Dahlstrom, both wildlife-rehabilitation specialists, have monitored the condition of the Keune livestock and said many people had donated hay for the animals.

The Keunes set the bales of hay on the opposite aside of the livestock fence, just beyond the animals’ reach, Brenda Miller said.

The horses, meanwhile, were to be released to Spirit Wind Horse Rescue in Crawford, according to an email from Vendla Stockdale, president of the organization.

Patricia Keune said after the hearing that she was eager to leave Colorado.

Keune stood during much of her hearing and said she was recovering from a knee replacement two weeks ago. The Keunes said they were unaware of the new charges.

“I’m going to get well,” Patricia Keune said, “and go back to Oklahoma.”


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