Case Snapshot
Case ID: 14767
Classification: Shooting, Neglect / Abandonment
Animal: horse
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Prosecutor(s): Michael Dungan, Mary Anderson
Judge(s): Stephen Tiktin

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Friday, Oct 17, 2008

County: Deschutes

Charges: Misdemeanor, Felony Non-CTA
Disposition: Convicted
Case Images: 1 files available

Defendant/Suspect: Russell Daniel Willeford

Case Updates: 8 update(s) available

An unidentified resident of Deschutes County, Ore., is offering a $1,000 reward for information about the shooting and abandonment of Trooper, a 6-year-old Arabian gelding. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Fred Perl and a volunteer group of local horse owners brought Trooper out of the Deschutes National Forest near Sisters, Ore., on Oct. 17. A group of hunters tipped authorities to the horse's presence after they found him suffering from a gunshot wound to the head and an older leg injury that showed signs it had been recently treated.

"A veterinarian, or a farrier, or a neighbor knows something about this horse," said Deschutes Sheriff's Department Captain Marc Mills.

Investigators suspect that Trooper was taken into the forest by a financially strapped owner who attempted to euthanize the horse.

"Or there could have been hunters on horseback, and when the horse became injured they tried to put him down," Mills said. "Right now we just don't know."

According Sarah Cook, office manager and technician at Bend Equine Medical Center, where Trooper is recovering, a bullet entered the horse's head behind his left eye, where it remains. Surgery to remove the eye and access bullet fragments will take place in coming weeks.

"Trooper had lost a large volume of blood from the gunshot wound, and is being treated for an abscess behind his eye, so he's not strong enough for surgery right now," Cook said.

Trooper's shooter could be charged with first-degree misdemeanor animal neglect and Class B felony animal abuse, Mills said. The neglect charge is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to one year in the county jail, and animal abuse is punishable by a fine up to $5,000 and up to one year in jail. The individual would also be ordered to pay restitution for Trooper's veterinary and other care costs.

Upon full recovery, Trooper will reside at the Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch, a facility which provides equine-assisted therapy for abused and neglected children.

Meanwhile, Mills hopes Trooper's ordeal remains an isolated case.

"But with feed prices going up, it wouldn't surprise us if we did see more cases like this," Mills said.

Case Updates

Sentencing for 27 year old Russell Daniel Willeford of Banks, Oregon. Three months in jail, just under $9,600 in restitution, five years probation, no weapons and domesticated animals in his possession, and a mental health evaluation before he has any chance of working with livestock again. This after he was found guilty of animal abuse and criminal mischief for shooting the horse now known as Hero in the head and leaving him to die in the sisters wilderness last fall. Hero survived, now blind in one eye. It was a Crimstopper tip that helped lead Deschutes County Sheriff's Detectives to Willeford. Willeford claimed he was putting the horse down due to a leg injury. He got the horse from Camp Tamarack in Sisters where he had once worked. In court, he told the judge, looking back he would do things differently but the horse business is his source of income. "If I'm not able to be around horses then I don't see, especially in this economy how they're expecting to get any of this paid back," said Willeford.

Lately, Willeford has been working as a trainer at the Rolling Hills Stable in Banks, Oregon, his current employer declined to comment. On the website, Willeford says"In college I spent my summers at an advanced riding camp for kids called Wolf Mountain in Grass Valley, California. It was there I was originally certified as a CHA and CCHA riding instructor." KOHD called the CHA or Certified Horsmanship Association, they told us: "We have searched all of our records, and find no record of him ever being certified by us," said Polly Haselton-Barger, Program Director for Certified Horsemanship Association.

Hero is now living at the Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Bend. Willeford was ordered to begin his sentence at 5:00 PM Monday.
Source: KOHD - June 29, 2009
Update posted on Sep 20, 2009 - 6:48PM 
Sentencing was delayed Tuesday for a Banks, Oregon man found guilty of shooting a horse in the head and leaving it to die in the Sisters Wilderness. Twenty-seven year old Russell Willeford was found guilty of animal abuse and criminal mischief. His attorney asked for a jury to determine the sentence, which the judge denied.

Willeford could face up to six years in jail and a quarter-million dollar fine.

The horse Willeford shot has recovered from its injuries and is now called "Hero." Sentencing has been rescheduled for June 29th.
Source: KOHD - June 10, 2009
Update posted on Jun 10, 2009 - 12:55PM 
After about three hours of deliberations, a Deschutes County jury issued a split verdict in the case of a Portland-area man accused of shooting a summer-camp horse and leaving it in the woods near Sisters to die.

The jury found Russell "Dan" Willeford guilty on one count of first-degree animal abuse and a count of criminal mischief, but acquitting him on a second first-degree abuse charge, as well as charges of neglect and first-degree theft.

Deschutes County Circuit Judge Stephen Tiktin set sentencing for June 9.

Outside the courtroom, sheriff's Lt. Kevin Dizney said they were pleased with the jury's decision, after an investigation that took several months.

"It's very important for the public to realize that animals are a very important part of our community, and that law enforcement will continue to work on these investigations in the future. And we're very happy with this verdict."

Last October, a 6-year-old Camp Tamarack horse named "Nikko" was found wandering in the woods near Sisters, shot twice in the head.

He was nursed back to health by rescuers who named him Trooper, and later began a new life at the Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Tumalo, with a new name: "Hero."

Nikko was shot first in the eye with a 9-mm gun, then again in the temple and left to die.

Willeford took the stand in his own defense during the trial, to tell his version of what happened and why.

Deschutes County Deputy DA Mary Anderson said there is a maximum 5-year prison term for the criminal mischief conviction, a Class C felony; animal abuse is a Class A misdemeanor.

The jury was presented with two animal abuse theories, knowing or reckless. The jury convicted Willeford on the knowing theory.

He was found not guilty on the animal neglect charge involving the pre-existing injury to his leg, Anderson said.

The prosecutor said two vets testified the horse was not a candidate for euthanasia.
Source: KTVZ - May 8, 2009
Update posted on May 8, 2009 - 10:08PM 
Russell Willeford, the Oregon man accused of shooting and abandoning a 6-year-old Arabian gelding in the Deschutes National Forest near Sisters, Ore., made his first appearance in Deschutes County Circuit Court Jan. 12. He pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree animal abuse, animal neglect, animal abandonment, theft, and criminal mischief, according to a spokesman for District Attorney Michael Dungan.

Willeford, a resident of Banks, was charged last October after a group of hunters discovered the horse wandering in the forest with a leg injury and a gunshot wound to the head.

Willeford's attorney, Joel Wirtz, was unavailable for comment.

The horse underwent surgeries to remove his left eye and repair his leg wound. He now resides at the Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Tumalo.

A jury trial is set for June 16.
Source: The Horse Magazine - Jan 15, 2009
Update posted on Jan 16, 2009 - 1:17AM 
He's accused of animal abuse against a horse that's become quite famous on the High Desert, best known as Trooper.

Russell Willeford had his first court appearance Friday in Deschutes County Circuit Court. Quiet through his arraignment, 27-year-old Willeford, or Dan as he's known to friends, was only in front of a judge for mere seconds.

The Banks man is accused of shooting Nikko, a horse from a children's summer camp, Camp Tamarack, near Suttle Lake.

Willeford worked as a wrangler there this past summer, and detectives say, was told there was no deadline pressure, but to find Nikko a new home.

After months went by with no takers, the camp planned to just keep him, but police say for some reason, Willeford had other ideas.

Unbeknownst to the camp, Nikko was led out to the Sisters-area forest, shot twice and left to die.

Marc Prigohzy, the director of Camp Tamarack, told NewsChannel 21 back when Willeford was arrested, "We were completely shocked and had no idea that this had happened and that it was our horse."

"It's not something we have ever encountered or thought would happen to one of our horses," he said.

But Nikko lived up to his new name of Trooper, given by his rescuers, by living through the saga for a week when he was finally rescued by hunters, bleeding and starving from a broken jaw.

Farriers recognized their work and Nikko, and pointed the finger at Willeford, who they say wasn't happy with Nikko's look compared to other horses at camp.

"When we first saw the horse, it was just sickening, seeing him like that. And to know Dan did it seems pretty crazy, because he didn't seem like that type of person," said farrier Kyle Deaver, who helped police connect the dots of the story.

Willeford, who declined comment to NewsChannel 21 on Friday, now faces charges of animal abuse, abandonment, theft and criminal mischief.

The one-eyed Nikko, again renamed as Hero, recovered well and is now living comfortably at Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch, a child's therapy ranch in Tumalo.

Willeford has told the court he's out of work right now, because of this case. He's scheduled to make the trip from Banks to Bend again to enter a plea on Jan. 12.
Source: KTVZ - Dec 5, 2008
Update posted on Dec 7, 2008 - 8:51PM 
Trooper, the 6-year-old Arabian gelding shot in the head and abandoned in the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon now has a new home, a new name, and a future helping kids in need.

The horse, renamed Hero, arrived at the Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Bend, Ore., on Nov. 21. He continues to recover from surgeries to remove his left eye and repair a serious leg wound. Eventually, he will join the ranch's free riding instruction program that pairs rescued horses with children in need.

"We changed his name to Hero because of all he's been through," said ranch equine program manager Kelsie Patka. "He's a symbol of hope."

U.S. Forest Service officers and local horse owners rescued Hero from the forest Oct. 15. Russell Willeford, 27, of Banks, Ore., was charged with criminal animal abuse in connection with the incident.
Source: The Horse Magazine - Nov 24, 2008
Update posted on Nov 24, 2008 - 8:42PM 
The story continued to unfold Thursday of how an arrest was made in the case of a wounded and starving horse found two weeks ago outside of Sisters.

A Banks, Ore., man was arrested Wednesday for shooting the horse twice and it turns out, he worked seasonally at a children's summer camp.

"From our understanding, Nikko had been found a home, an adoptive home," Laura Felder said Thursday. She and her boss, Kyle Deaver, are the farriers who recognized their own horseshoe work on Nikko, or "Trooper" as he was renamed by rescuers.

He had been found by hunters nearly two weeks ago, shot in the head, 150 pounds underweight and wandering around the Sisters Ranger District with his halter and lead line still attached.

"We were shocked," Felder said. "We had no idea that it would be the same horse, and we had a photo on our records of him, just to double-check."

Nikko was one of 35 horses at Camp Tamarack, a children's summer camp off Highway 20W near Suttle Lake. Giving rides to kids, directors say he was gentle and sweet, but a leg injury from his previous owner kept vets caring for him regularly.

It was when the camp's lead horse wrangler, Daniel Willeford, tried to find Nikko a new adoptive home at the end of the summer that things went wrong.

"They (the camp) said if they found another home for it fine, but if not, they planned on keeping it and taking care of it until the wound healed, because it was just a good kids' horse," said farrier Kyle Deaver.

When craigslist ads didn't produce an adoptive home and months went by, detectives say Willeford made the secret and unauthorized decision to kill Nikko, and farriers say he left Camp Tamarack to believe he had been adopted.

Nobody knows why Willeford felt he desperately needed to get rid of the horse or find it a home, nor was NewsChannel 21 able to confirm or deny with detectives that Willeford was promised money for each horse he successfully adopted out.

Regardless, Nikko was shot first in the eye with a 9-mm gun, then again in the temple and left to die.

"When we first saw the horse, it was just sickening seeing him like that," Deaver said. "And to know Dan (allegedly) did it seems pretty crazy, because he didn't seem like that type of person."

Camp Tamarack's executive director echoed those feelings.

"We were completely shocked and had no idea that this had happened and that it was our horse," said Marc Prigohzy. "It's not something we have ever encountered or thought would happen to one of our horses."

Daniel Willeford is in the Deschutes County Jail and faces six charges, including animal abuse, animal abandonment and theft.

Nikko, named Trooper by his rescuers, is gaining weight and getting healthy and has been adopted by Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch outside of Tumalo.
Source: KTVZ - Oct 30, 2008
Update posted on Nov 2, 2008 - 9:23PM 
The authorities arrested a man accused of shooting a horse and abandoning him in the Deschutes National Forest.

The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday that detectives arrested Russell Willeford of Banks after two witnesses identified the bay Arabian gelding that survived the bullet wound to the head.

The witnesses said the horse had been living at a youth camp until officials decided to remove him from the horses used for attendees.

The sheriff's office said camp officials asked Willeford to find the horse a new home. But the wrangler allegedly shot him instead.

The 27-year-old has been lodged at the county jail on charges of animal abuse, attempted animal abuse, animal abandonment, criminal mischief and theft.

The horse is in the care of veterinarians in Tumalo, and has acquired the name "Trooper."
Source: Seattle Times - Oct 30, 2008
Update posted on Oct 30, 2008 - 4:39PM 


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