Starved horses' hay supply cut after many payment lapses, farmer says

Abuse case continues as defense attorney continues to blame Jeanne Ryan's son for the horses' neglect

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  • Members of Justice for the Horses of Argus Farm before entering the Orange County Courthouse for day seven of Jeanne Ryan’s animal abuse trial. (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Karen DiTacceni, Lainey Geniti-Reynolds and Laurie Brinkworth stand in front of the Orange County Courthouse during a break on day six of Jeanne Ryan’s animal abuse trial. (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Michael Sussman arrive at court on day seven (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Members of Justice for the Horses of Argus Farm before entering the Orange County Courthouse for day seven of Jeanne Ryan’s animal abuse trial. (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

By Frances Ruth Harris

— The defense attorney again pressed Jeanne Ryan's son about dates and times: When did he feed the horses? When did he water them When was hay delivered? When did he drag each dead horse out of the barn in which it starved?

Michael Sussman said the dates and times Jimmy McSwigin gave during grand jury questioning and the current bench trial did not always agree.

Sussman cross-examined McSwigin for a long time on May 17, day six of the trial. He said repeatedly: "If you know. If you remember."

McSwigin repeatedly said he either didn't know or couldn't remember.

Judge Robert Freehill told McSwigin not to guess, and to answer only if he knew for sure.

"I would have to guess," he said, over and over.

He said he did not live continuously at Ryan's farm, he said. He did like being there, he said.

Sussman pressed McSwigin about his drug use. He told the court McSwigin was kicked out of school because he was accused of selling drugs and possessing marijuana.

"Both are serious offenses," Sussman said.

He has been building a case against his client's son since the first day of the trial, which began on May 7. Ryan is accused in the deaths of 10 horses she kept at Argus Farm in Goshen. Many carcasses were discovered there last summer, in a locked barn.

Sussman puts the blame on McSwigin: he said Ryan tasked her son with the care of her horses when she was physically unable to do the work.

McSwigin said he did as much as he could for the horses whenever he was at the farm. He said he didn't always follow his mother's oral directions or instant messages.

He said he cared for the horses while his mother went to Ireland. He said he assumed his mother cared for them when he wasn't around.

He told Sussman, "I told my mother what was going on."

His mother came into the barn from time to time and knew the horses were losing weight, he said.

Veterinarian Dr. Megan Knoell testified that the horses died of starvation. She told Orange County Chief Assistant District Attorney Chris Borek that she visited the barn at 132 Schoolhouse Road on July 26, 2017, with the animal abuse investigative team and the police, when they discovered the horse carcasses and the last, fading survivor in the barn, Seamus.

Sussman asked if parasites contributed to the horses’ deaths. She said there was no evidence of parasites. It was starvation that killed them, she said.

No money for hayOn Friday, day seven of the trial, Richard Slesinski, a hay farmer, said he delivered hay to Ryan for 12 to 13 years. In the spring of 2015, her payments lapsed, he said. She was never paying up fully. He said sometimes he'd wipe the slate clean and start over because she was so far behind.

Slesinski stopped in to see her. He asked why she was keeping the horses. She told him they were her therapy. She had 17 or 18 horses at the time, he said.

He said a couple of the paddocks lacked shelter in winter. Ryan told him that the horses block the wind with their rear ends and were fine. The stalls got dirtier and the fence more decrepit over time, he said.

Slesinski said he'd decided he wanted nothing more to do with delivering hay to Ryan. When he would drive by, he said, he wouldn't see hay where it was normally stacked in the past and thought the hay was now in the barn.

Judge Freehill asked Slesinski how long he'd been a farmer. Slesinski said he began milking at 13 and started farming formally in 1960. He was a dairy farmer first and a hay farmer for the last 30 years.

Jimmy McSwigin and Shawn Barnes fired a gun in the barn when Poja was there with Kayla and Megan, Jimmy's friends

A shot in the barnErika Poja, Jimmy McSwigin's one time fiancee, said she helped McSwigin feed the horses when she was at the farm. She recounted an argument between Ryan and McSwigin about feeding the horses. Jimmy told his mother he would feed the horse, but not just right them. Ryan said in an instant message to her son, "I know you have not taken care of the horses and yet you demand cigarettes."

Poja said McSwigin once fired a gun in the barn when she and some of their friends where there. Sussman asked if the horses were in the barn at the time. Poja said they were.

Poja said she spoke to Ryan about bones showing on the horses, and that McSwigin would tell his mother whenever a horse died.

The trial will pick up again at June 4 at 11 a.m. to finish the cross-examination of a forensic entomologist now out of the country.

Related stories "Attorney blames farm owner's son for neglecting horses":

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