A 19-year-old Arlington man appeared in court Friday relating to the July shooting death of a zebra stallion at HiView Farms near Rockett.
Joshua Romano pleaded guilty in 40th District Court to two state jail felony charges - criminal mischief and cruelty to animals - and will serve five years’ probation. If he violates conditions of his community supervision, Romano could see his probation revoked and be ordered to serve two 730-day sentences that were suspended as part of the agreement.
Romano has already made a $3,000 payment to the zebra’s owners and will pay an additional $7,000 restitution.
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 HiView Farm 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 Zambi, 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.
The group was traveling along Farrar Road when the driver said he saw Romano pointing the weapon out the window, Ketchum said, noting the others tried to get him not to shoot and the driver sped up to try to get past the field, 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.
Romano, who was living in Red Oak at the time, was taken into custody several days after the shooting. With the plea agreement, he waived all rights to appeal.
Assistant district attorney Patrick Wilson said he was pleased with the outcome of the case, which he noted included the maximum length of probation, the maximum length of suspended sentence and ensured full restitution to the McMillans as part of the agreement.
“We didn’t believe we would have had any better outcome for the victims than this and at least this way we can make sure they receive payment,” Wilson said. “There is no reason to believe a jury would have given anything other than what was agreed to - and it could have been less.
“We entered into this only after careful consultation with the McMillans,” he said. “This was a serious economic crime as well and, hopefully, the lump sum payment ($3,000) will help them get back on their feet and, under the plan, he will have to have the remainder paid off within two years.”
After the hearing, the McMillans said they were happy the matter was behind them.
“We waited a long time for this day,” Lorne McMillan said. “But it’s a swell day, as swell a day as it can be under the circumstances.”
“It won’t bring Zambi back, but it teaches someone a lesson about destroying a beautiful animal and someone else’s property,” Pat McMillan said. “And it’s a terrible lesson for that young man.”
The couple has said they are glad the incident wasn’t worse - because their pregnant zebra mares and several camels were in the same field as the stallion at the time of the shooting. Since then, two of the mares have safely foaled, with two more foals expected soon. The camels also are due to give birth any time, they said.
Another heartbreak for the McMillans at the time of the shooting was the thought they might be forced to move their exotic herd further into their property to keep them safe. They said they enjoy sharing their animals with the community, noting many people drive by their place on Farm-to-Market 813 to view them.
“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.
“The public enjoys our animals so much. We don’t want to have to fence them away from the road somewhere. We enjoy the public enjoying them,” he said.
The McMillans continue to look for a replacement stallion - and hope to have located a suitable animal by spring. Zebras typically don’t breed until they are about 5 years old, they said.
The McMillans expressed their appreciation for the work done by the Ellis County and District Attorney’s office - particularly Shelley Shook and Patrick Wilson - as well the sheriff’s office for its successful investigation and the media for assistance in raising public awareness about what had happened.
They said they also deeply appreciate the many people who contacted them and continue to keep in touch since the incident.
“We even had people calling us who wanted to add to the reward,” Lorne McMillan said, extending a “thank you” also to the original tipster, whose identity he said he’s never learned.
E-mail JoAnn at email@example.com