Yellowstone County District Judge Susan Watters has upheld James Leachman’s jury conviction on five counts of abusing his horses.
Leachman, a longtime Billings horse and cattle breeder, didn’t deny owning the horses he was convicted of abusing during his December trial, so he can’t raise that issue on appeal, the judge ruled.
Leachman, acting as his own attorney, appealed his Justice Court conviction to District Court by arguing that prosecutors never proved he owned the horses.
But in her Aug. 12 ruling, Judge Watters said Leachman had argued in a court motion that the evidence showed he was in the pastures caring for his horses.
“Leachman cannot now change his position on appeal and argue that the state produced insufficient evidence as to the custody of the horses,” she wrote.
In December, Justice of the Peace Larry Herman sentenced Leachman to serve five years in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility, with all but 120 days suspended, and a $5,000 fine. The judge also prohibited him from owning cattle or horses for the duration of the sentence.
After sentencing, the former rancher was briefly arrested, but was released on bond.
“We are obviously pleased with Judge Watters’ decision,” said Yellowstone Deputy County Attorney Ingrid Rosenquist. “Going forward, we will seek imposition of his sentence; however that could be delayed should Mr. Leachman appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.”
Leachman declined to comment on the ruling.
The County Attorney's Office successfully argued that he abused at least five of his horses by placing plastic identification bands on their front legs and not adjusting or removing them as they grew. At least five horses either died of their injuries or were so crippled they had to be euthanized, prosecutors argued.
The Leachman Cattle Co. used to own the Home Place Ranch, on the Crow reservation about 16 miles east of Billings, where Leachman kept his horses.
Two years ago, more than 800 Leachman horses at the ranch were seized and sold by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for trespassing on tribal lands.