Terri Smith enters guilty plea

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

During a pretrial hearing Monday in Henry County Circuit Court, Terri L. Smith, 51, of Campbellsburg, waived her right to a jury trial and entered a guilty plea to one count of second-degree cruelty to animals, a Class A misdemeanor.

Smith, 51, was charged with 218 counts of second-degree cruelty to animals in December, after Henry County officials raided the property she and her husband, Kenneth H. Smith, 71, shared on Allyson Lane in rural Henry County. Officials confiscated 240 animals – including more than 100 dogs, nine horses, 54 rabbits and several cats, as well as dozens of gerbils, hamsters and hermit crabs from the site in the Dec. 12 raid.

Terri Smith had been scheduled to take her case before a jury on March 29. That date was remanded by Judge Diana E. Wheeler in lieu of Smith’s plea.

Kenneth Smith, who was facing the same charges, committed suicide on the property within days of posting bond on Saturday, Dec. 17. He was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head when a family member went to the property on Tuesday, Dec. 20.

During the raid, most of the dogs were found in a single-wide trailer and an outbuilding on the property, housed in crates and cages stacked one on top of another and filled with feces and urine.

Henry County Animal Control Officer Dan Flinkfelt said the veterinarian bill for bringing the animals back to health has surpassed $10,000. Most of the animals are being cared for in foster homes operated by animal welfare and rescue organizations in Henry and surrounding counties.

County Attorney Virginia Harrod agreed to allow Terri Smith to regain custody of four animals in exchange for her guilty plea – two dogs and two horses. Harrod said Smith will be allowed to pick the specific animals, but has not yet done so.

Terri Smith will be sentenced by Judge Diane Wheeler on April 16 at the Henry County Courthouse. Wheeler dismissed the other charges, meaning Smith could face up to 12 months in jail plus restitution and court costs.

During Monday’s hearing, Harrod told the judge she understands that Smith has filed for bankruptcy and which may mean she will be unable to pay restitution; she noted that Smith also is petitioning the court to serve her sentence under house arrest, because she says she has a heart condition.

Wheeler told Smith she must have a doctor’s letter regarding her condition with her at sentencing, before she can be allowed into the Home Incarceration Program. The judge also advised Smith that if she is approved for HIP, she will be required to pay for the service up front.

“If you can’t afford it, you’ll have to do regular jail time,” Wheeler said.

Outside the courthouse following the hearing, Smith’s attorney, George R. Carter of Louisville, declined to comment. His client, however, said the situation “has been very hard, with the death of my husband.”

Flinkfelt said Monday afternoon that it was “a good bad day.” He said the situation was sad, “because a gentleman lost his life and animals were kept in deplorable conditions. ... I wish it would never have happened in the first place. But, like I’ve always said, the justice system will prevail, and it has. I’m happy that it’s over with; I’m happy she pled guilty.”

The incident, he said, has had a greater affect on people than most residents might realize, in terms of the foster families caring for these animals for the past three months, as well as those who helped confiscate the animals and the neighbors, in addition to county resources.

He and Harrod said if Smith does file bankruptcy, the court may force her to sell all of her animals because they would be considered assets. He said rescue groups have already stepped up, offering to pay whatever the court deems necessary for Smith will relinquish custody. When that happens, the animals then can be spayed and neutered and placed in permanent homes.

Harrod said that it takes a surprisingly low amount of cash to care for horses, especially if Smith returns to the original property. There, she said, the horses would have 12 acres of pasture to roam upon. But, should Smith not care for the animals properly, Harrod said, Flinkfelt will be watching and could charge her again, in which case her probation would be revoked.

Flinkfelt said Karen Nellums, a tenant who was also living at the Allyson Lane property when the raid was conducted, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree cruelty for a lesser sentence, agreeing to relinquish all but one of her dogs and to testify against Smith in court.

Nellums had more than a dozen of her own dogs living in the trailer with her at the time of the raid. Harrod said Nellums had no criminal history, and just one insurance charge, which was later dismissed.

Flinkfelt said Nellums likely will get diversion and be forced to serve 100 hours of community service when she is formerly sentenced April 11 at the Henry County Courthouse.