A 53-year-old Winchester woman who allowed three horses to starve and die on her property pleading guilty to felony charges must serve 270 days in a sheriff’s work release program.
Gizelle Marie Russell on Tuesday admitted three counts of animal cruelty in a case stemming from a Riverside County Department of Animal Services investigation going back over two years.
During a hearing at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, Superior Court Judge F. Paul Dickerson imposed the terms specified in Russell’s plea agreement, sentencing her to the work release program and 48 months felony probation. Additionally, the judge ordered that the defendant not own or keep “any animals for the entire probationary period, or at least four years.”
The defendant’s ranch property on Van Gaale Lane, near Winchester Road, was the subject of a search warrant in December 2018 after animal control officers confirmed that three horses — two of which were Pony of the Americas breed — had been severely neglected.
During a search of the stables, the three equines, two geldings and a mare, were located dead in their pens, according to the Department of Animal Services.
Sgt. Lesley Huennekens described the animals as emaciated, and there was little to no food or water available.
Huennekens said animal control officers first initiated an investigation in 2017, when the defendant’s horses were found to be malnourished and poorly maintained, culminating in an out-of-court agreement with the county that led to all of the horses at the ranch being placed with other ranchers able to care for them.
“Unfortunately, after we inspected the property, she snuck three of the horses back in and concealed them inside a barn and starved them,” Huennekens said then. “It had been a chronic babysitting issue with her, and it had reached a point where we were ready to seize the horses and put them into rescues, but she wanted them placed with people she knew. If it hadn’t have been for a good Samaritan, there’s a possibility we would never have known what was going on.”
According to the sergeant, the case illustrates why it’s important for members of the community to keep an eye out for problems and report them to authorities.
Russell, who had no documented prior felony or misdemeanor convictions, was charged with the cruelty counts last August.
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