An Ellis County grand jury has issued two indictments relating to the shooting death of a zebra at HiView Farms near Rockett, charging Joshua Romano, 18, with cruelty to animals and criminal mischief over $1,500.
Both charges are state jail felonies.
The incident occurred July 5, with sheriff’s investigators discovering Romano’s identity as the result of an anonymous tipster, who declined a reward offered by the farm’s owners, Lorne and Pat McMillan.
“(The tipster) said the right thing needed to be done here and that he wanted the McMillans to keep the money and apply it toward getting a new zebra,” sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Ketchum said in an interview at the time.
Lorne McMillan has said the cost to replace the deceased zebra stallion is about $10,000 for a replacement animal and about $2,000 for shipping.
Ketchum said the tip led to Romano and four other males, all occupants in the same vehicle from which the shot was fired. He said investigators talked to all five and all were cooperative.
“We don’t believe at this time that this was a premeditated act, and the other occupants of the car had no idea of what was about to happen,” Ketchum said, saying the group was traveling along Farrar Road when the driver said he saw Romano pointing the weapon out the window. The others tried to get him not to shoot and the driver sped up to try to get past the field, Ketchum said, with Romano only able to get one shot off.
“The suspect said he thought he had hit it (the zebra), but the others didn’t know until they saw the news reports,” Ketchum said, saying the weapon belonged to another of the car’s occupants.
Ketchum said a rifle, shell casing and bullet from the animal’s carcass were recovered and sent to the Department of Public Safety crime lab in Austin.
On Thursday, Lorne McMillan said he was pleased to hear of the indictments and that he hopes justice will be served in the case.
In an earlier interview, McMillan described the loss of the zebra as an act of “gall” and said he’s glad it wasn’t worse. Three pregnant zebra mares and the couple’s camels also were in the same pasture when the shooting occurred.
The couple hopes they’re able to continue to allow the public to see their animals and not have to move them further into their property to keep them safe.
“We feel selfish if no one else can enjoy them,” McMillan said. “All the time we have people stopping by the fence to see them, feed them.”
Cruelty to animal charge
A second, non-related animal cruelty case also resulted in an indictment by the grand jury this week.
Allen Lee Stallings, 27, of Venus was indicted on an animal cruelty charge relating to an incident in December.
According to an affidavit for warrant of arrest, a witness told the sheriff’s office she saw Stallings at her property line, carrying a handgun and saying he was going to shoot the dog that he said had bitten his wife earlier that day.
The witness said she told Stallings her dogs always remained inside her fence, but Stallings came onto her property at which time one of her dogs came from near the residence and began barking at him.
“ … Stallings turned and shot the dog with the handgun, killing it,” the affidavit reads, noting Stallings later told investigators “he was justified in shooting the dog.”
According to the affidavit, probable cause existed for the arrest because “the suspect intentionally and knowingly killed the complainant’s dog without the effective consent of the owner, a violation of Section 42.09 (a) (5) of the Texas Penal Code.”
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