WINNIPEG — Did bitterness toward his estranged brother lead an experienced Manitoba farmer to intentionally starve his cattle? Or was he simply in over his head and unable to afford to feed them?
This is the central issue a judge will weigh in on Thursday as she decides on a fit sanction for Thomas Jeffrey McLean in connection with what justice officials contend is one of the more horrific animal-abuse cases they’ve seen in Manitoba.
Prosecutors want McLean, 49, to pay more than $100,000 in fines after he pleaded guilty Tuesday to numerous Animal Care Act counts stemming from the discovery of 67 dead cattle and 52 near death due to starvation on the family homestead in the RM of Louise on May 10, 2011.
In exchange for his guilty pleas, the Crown took a request for jail time off the table.
The Crown told provincial Judge Mary Kate Harvie it believes McLean intentionally starved the cattle to devalue their worth and therefore the overall worth of his mother’s estate, the subject of a heated court battle between McLean and his brother — one McLean came out of on the losing end.
“This was an attempt, through his negligence, to make sure that whomever, however the estate was divided, ends up getting nothing from it,” prosecutor Shaun Sass said.
Provincial animal-care investigators were called to McLean’s farm to check on the welfare of the cattle after his brother made a complaint, court heard. The 67 animals died in a manner consistent with “prolonged starvation,” Harvie was told.
In one instance, investigators found a calf dead of exposure because it couldn’t walk to its mother because of its weakened state at birth, and another that “died of neglect” because it couldn’t move due to the amount of mud in its stall.
Months before the investigation, McLean’s brother won a bid to become sole executor of the family estate, a task he had previously shared with McLean after the death of their mother in 2008.
After a trial, a Court of Queen’s Bench judge found McLean owned a substantial part of the herd, defence lawyer Gavin Wood said.
“It makes no sense for a person like Mr. McLean to set out to damage that herd,” Wood said.
Instead, what happened was McLean lost control of a large chunk of land and didn’t have “nearly enough” natural feed for the cattle, Wood said.
Compounding the problem was how McLean, due to the estate battle, was prohibited from selling the cattle and raising money to buy feed that way, Wood said.
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