Crime & Courts

McHenry man found guilty of animal cruelty in starved horse case

Charles E. Parnell of McHenry is on trial facing animal cruelty charges after police said he mistreated five of his horses in 2014.
Charles E. Parnell of McHenry is on trial facing animal cruelty charges after police said he mistreated five of his horses in 2014.

WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County jury on Wednesday found a McHenry man guilty of letting one horse die and four nearly starve to death in 2014 at a Marengo farm.

It took jurors one hour to find Charles E. Parnell guilty on 12 of the 15 counts against him. He was convicted on all five of the animal cruelty charges and seven counts of failing to provide adequate food, water and veterinary care. Jurors acquitted Parnell on three charges of failing to provide adequate vet care.

Authorities said Parnell, 64, starved five horses while they were in his care at a friend’s Marengo farm. Members of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, McHenry County Animal Control and the Hooved Animal Humane Society arrived at the Marengo farm Dec. 21, 2014, after they were called and found four emaciated horses and one dead horse.

They were so malnourished that attorneys said one horse who died was merely “skin and bones.”

During the three-day trial, prosecutors showed images of the horses that were taken around the time of the December 2014 police investigation. Each animal displayed protruding rib and hip bones.

“Horses die every day, and when you treat them the way [Parnell] did, it’s no wonder one of them died,” Assistant State’s Attorney Taylor Nesbit said, referencing a statement Parnell made to detectives.

Prosecutors said that at the time, Parnell had the horses on his property until he got sick and needed someone else to help take care of them. He brought five horses to a farm in Peoria and kept them there until the owner told him one of them had died.

When Parnell got there and saw the poor condition of his other horses, he picked them up and took them to a farm in Marengo belonging to his friend, Nancy Wolfe.

Wolfe took the stand Wednesday and said Parnell arrived with his horses in December 2014 and only had them there for no longer than two weeks before authorities came to investigate in December 2014.

When the horses got to her farm, she said they looked like “walking skeletons,” and she and Parnell tried to rehabilitate them. Wolfe said that because Parnell was sick, she agreed to feed his horses when he wasn’t able to.

Parnell had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, pneumonia and a high fever, and he was receiving treatment at a hospital in Iowa City, Iowa.

Wolfe’s testimony this week contradicted what McHenry County Sheriff’s Detective Ed Maldonado said she told him during an interview in January 2015.

Maldonado said Wolfe and Parnell agreed in October 2014 that Parnell would rent space for his horses for $200 a month and he would be responsible for feeding them, cleaning the stables and any other medical care they might need.

Maldonado said Wolfe also told him that for the two months his horses were there, she seldom saw Parnell, and no one was feeding them.

Wolfe on Wednesday denied ever talking to Maldonado, and she said she never mentioned anything about any monetary agreement.

In his closing statements, Parnell’s attorney, Jed Stone, said a man who made a living off of two of his horses would not knowingly starve them. He said Parnell bred two of his horses and had several participate in rodeo competitions.

“This was a sick cowboy who would have loved to have done more but couldn’t,” Stone said. “Are we going to label someone as a criminal because they were sick?”

Parnell, who testified on his behalf, said that trusting the farm in Peoria to take care of his horses was the biggest mistake of his life. He said he brought a large quantity of hay and food to the Peoria and Marengo farm and tried to make sure his horses were getting the care they needed.

He also said he would give his horses medical treatment when needed, citing his past experience caring for hundreds of horses during his career.

Prosecutors asked Parnell whether he took his horses to a veterinarian, and he said he often didn’t need to because he could take care of them himself.

“You can’t save every horse,” Parnell said.

Nesbit argued that Parnell knowingly starved his horses and took them to the Marengo farm to leave them there. She said there was no other reason as to why the horses were so underweight other than the fact that they were not being fed.

Parnell will remain out on bond ahead of his next court appearance before Judge Robert Wilbrandt Jr. for post-trial motions and sentencing May 17. He faces jail time or probation on the misdemeanor charges.

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