Leachman on trial for horse abuse. Photo: Paul Ruhter/Billings Gazette.

Leachman appeals horse abuse conviction

James Leachman. Photo by David Grubbs / Reno Gazette
James Leachman of the Leachman Cattle Co. walks into the courtroom Tuesday for his omnibus hearing on animal cruelty charges. Photo by David Grubbs / Reno Gazette

Do you remember the James Leachman story?

It is a tragic story of horses left to die at a Montana ranch while disputes raged between Leachman, who owned the ranch where they were kept (situated on tribal lands) and a neighboring cattle ranching family who bought the ranch when it was foreclosed on. No one it seems were tending to these horses, some of whom were found starved to death in the snow.

However, a major focus at the Leachman cruelty trial was that Leachman had put identification bands on the horses and did not supervise them. Investigators found that the bands had not been adjusted or removed as the horses grew. The unbreakable plastic leg bands caused the agonizing deaths of at least five horses.

Leachman was found guilty of horse abuse and sentenced.

We reported the following in December, 2012:

Yellowstone County Justice of the Peace Larry Herman sentenced Billings livestock breeder James Leachman on Wednesday to serve five years in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility, with all but 120 days suspended, for horse abuse.

The judge also fined Leachman $5,000 and prohibited him from owning cows or horses for the duration of his sentence.

Herman granted all the jail time and fines sought by the prosecution. Leachman faced a maximum five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Leachman, 70, was led away in handcuffs after the sentencing, but he plans to appeal his conviction to Yellowstone District Court. His son, Seth Leachman, was making arrangements in the courtroom to post a $5,000 bond to immediately release his father from jail during the appeal.

The main bone of contention is, who was responsible these horses at the time of abuse, neglect and death.

The Billings Gazette reported:

Leachman’s limited liability company, Leachman Cattle Co., used to own the Home Place ranch, but the property on the Crow Reservation was sold at a U.S. Marshal’s Service foreclosure sale. The neighboring Stovall family paid $2.6 million for the ranch.

In an interview Leachman told the newspaper that “his horses were starving and said Turk Stovall had been moving his horses around without his permission until he didn’t know where they all were”. Stovall said “they want the horses off before the grass their cattle will need starts growing.”

As the story unfolded, it was made clear by authorities that the horses still alive would not be for long, and would soon starve to death. The local community and people from around the country came to the rescue donating cash and supplies; hay drops were successfully made.

Eventually the surviving horses who remained at the ranch or had roamed onto neighboring ranches, were sold at auction. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs seized a large portion of the horses who had left Home Place ranch, trespassing onto tribal lands, and sold them at auction.

During an unusual sale drawing international interest, the Bureau of Indian Affairs auctioned more than 800 Leachman horses that had been trespassing on Crow Reservation trust lands.  During the sale, Leachman's son, Seth Leachman, bid successfully on 66 horses. Image by Casey Riffi.
During an unusual sale drawing international interest, the Bureau of Indian Affairs auctioned more than 800 Leachman horses that had been trespassing on Crow Reservation trust lands. During the sale, Leachman’s son, Seth Leachman, bid successfully on 66 horses. Image by Casey Riffi.

Following his sentencing Leachman made it clear he would appeal his conviction. And now he has.

Jan Falstad, reporting for the Billings Gazette, writes:

Billings livestock breeder James Leachman has filed with the Montana Supreme Court an appeal of the conviction he received for abusing horses on his ranch east of Billings.

Leachman, acting as his own attorney, filed notice last fall that he intended to appeal. On Feb. 24, he officially filed his complaint, insisting prosecutors hadn’t proved he owned the horses.

In his appeal, Leachman said he “had NO physical control over these horses” as he lived over 20 miles away in Billings.

and that:

He was sentenced to 120 days in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility as part of a five-year sentence and $5,000 fine. He remains free on bail during the appeal process.

Read full report >>


Leachman sentenced to jail for horse abuse Dec. 13, 2012
Leg bands not humane testifies expert in Leachman trial, Nov. 29, 2012
Leachman horse abuse trial begins, Nov. 7, 2012
Leachman denied public defender in horse abuse case, Apr. 17, 2011
Who is responsible for the Leachman horses?, Jan. 31, 2012
Students don hats for Leachman horses, Jan. 29, 2011
First hay drop for starving Montana horses a success, Jan. 28, 2011

10 thoughts on “Leachman appeals horse abuse conviction”

  1. Leachman should just shut his guilty mouth and crawl back under the rock he crawled out from under and stay there, and think about the Horror and suffering he caused , and try to think of a way he can help horses !!!!!!! to make up for what he caused ……………………….. Take a good long Look at the so called man mirror Leachman, its not a pretty sight is it …………………


  2. Clearly this man is guilty of blatant Animal cruelty, the sentence he received is certainly to lenient for his horrible crime against the innocent……it is ridiculous and insults the intelligence of the Judge in this case, that he has the stinking balls to file for appeal, by doing this he attracts attention of the Public and maybe that could be a good thing, he is ohhhh so Lucky i wasnt the judge in this case he would be doing time for the rest of his miserable life , he would also be mucking stalls, under the watchful eyes of the public…. for the despicable, horrendous cruelty he and he alone inflicted on those loving innocent horses………… How dare he think that a appeal would ever help him !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Cruelty against the innocent should never be tolerated !!!!! Throw the book at this Sub-Humane irresponsible low life !!!!!!


    1. Since his son bought 66 of the horses, James Leachman appears to still be involved with horses. Yet part of his sentence which he is appealing, says he is not to own any horses … for the duration. This is how abusers get around these sort of mandates. They have friends and family get possession of the horses in their names. Surely the Judge will not be fooled.


      1. See what happens , he again now brings innocent friends and family to his torturous level , his cruelty is infectious also to innocent people !!!! He is the bubonic plague of cruelty and abuse of the innocent !!!!


  3. Isn’t it interesting to watch the dance of the guilty? The finger of responsibility points and the offenders dance. In the meantime, the animals suffer. He didn’t care – bottom line.


    1. When this was first reported there was so much finger pointing. Regardless of who was legally responsible, what about morally. If horses wander on to your property starving, you don’t feed them because they are not yours. I understand if it is hundreds and you cannot afford to feed them — but these were horses were starving literally to death. If you can afford to buy a foreclosed property for $2.6 million — surely you can either feed them in the interim or a least get them help. I notice the guilty parties did not mind selling them once the horses were saved by the kindhearted. This is another callous story that disgusts people about how ranchers and breeders like these do business. What sort of message did this send to the students who did the hats for horses to raise money? And the other donors?


      1. Well said Viviane. This does seems to be more of a story of how to carry on your business without any regard for the animal. The intensity of this realization is then followed by the cold hearted intervention of law. We as a society have to ferret out why animals may be tortured with such impunity. For myself, I have come to terms that at the heart of this entire dispute was the livestock attitude. Which is so ironically painful. And then you see the son of the rancher bidding on his family’s own horses to save them from the slaughter faced by all the others. But before he gain his hero medals – why did he do that? Out of the goodness of his heart? I somehow feel his motivation was grounded more in a future profit. I am sharing this story and suggesting that the hailed producers of this country are at the heart of all legal animal abuse. The blatant torture of these horses, starving, limbs bound with plastic bands, dying in the open has gone unpunished – I certainly have no comfort of justice having been done, no matter what the judgment of the court was. It is a joke that the penalty for the horror witnessed by thousands on the discovery of the animals is just a 120 day sentence and the rest forgiven by the court. We mistake animal cruelty laws to be to protect animals and that is where so many courts go wrong. For their thinking is, humans have dominion over animals, how do you punish a human for abusing an animal? When, in actuality, the laws are to protect our sensibilities and sense of compassion from being offended – and that must be the basis of punishment. And all those whose names are in this story should have suffered the rendering of justice.


        1. I look at that auction picture and look at the two horses on the block, and their their shabby appearance, their defeated stances, and wonder who bought them. They do not not where they are, or how they got there. It is a despicable way to treat animals. Heartless to bring them into the world. How horrible for the ones whose circulation was cut off by those id bands to the point they were cut so deeply into they died a slow agonizing end, bleeding to death. The others on the brink of starvation in the dead of winter. Every single rancher involved in this should hang their heads in shame — the tribe too who seized an opportunity and took advantage of the vulnerable to make a profit. It is probably unfair to blame them as much, considering their long history which has been anything but good in too many instances. Still, you would think some compassion still lingers.


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