RENO, Nev. – RENO, Nev. (AP) — Two men changed their pleas Wednesday and acknowledged that they shot and killed five wild mustangs in Nevada in a case that flooded U.S. prosecutors with thousands of e-mails from around the world expressing outrage at the slaughter.
Todd Davis, 45, admitted in federal court in Reno that he and Joshua Keathley, 36, had been drinking and used "poor judgment" when they shot the horses with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle in November near the Nevada-California line.
Prosecutors said they offered no plea bargain and intend to seek the maximum penalty of one year in jail and $100,000 fine for each at the sentencing set for Sept. 14.
"The intentional and malicious harassment, abuse and killing of federally-protected wild horses should not and will not be tolerated," said Dan Bogden, U.S. attorney for Nevada.
In changing their pleas, the two Lovelock men admitted to U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert McQuaid that they shot the horses about 150 miles northwest of Reno, a violation of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
"We'd been drinking a little," Davis said. "We saw some horses and used poor judgment and shot a few of them."
Keathley said the two were looking for places to do some trapping when they came across the horses in the rugged high-desert rangeland on the edge of the Sierra Nevada.
"We seen the wild horses," Keathley said in his brief explanation to McQuaid. "We killed a few of them and then we left."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sue Fahami said they shot into a herd of eight to 10 horses and watched at least four fall to their deaths.
"We feel justice has been served at this point," Fahami told The Associated Press after the court appearance, adding that she and Bogden combined received a total of approximately 24,000 e-mails and letters.
"There has been great public interest in this case. And it's not just in Washoe County, not just in Nevada, not just in the United States," she said. "We've received e-mails from all over the world."
The men were charged in January with "maliciously causing the death of a wild horse" after the U.S Bureau of Land Management offered a $10,000 reward and the Humane Society of the United States added $2,500 for any information leading to criminal convictions in the case.
Activist Terri Farley, author of the popular "Phantom Stallion" series of children's books, attended Wednesday's hearing in support of prosecutors seeking the maximum sentence.
"I really hope the judge nails them big time," she told AP. "They are adult men, not kids. They are out there drinking on public land and using it as their own private shooting gallery."
Some horse protection advocates had criticized the government's decision to charge the two men with only one horse's death. Fahami said that was due in part to the inability to determine which man shot which horse.
"We charged the case based on the provable facts we had. (One horse) is what we could prove," she said.