A woman whose horse was led away from the farm, sexually assaulted and killed was awarded more than three times what she asked for in restitution on May 30.
Deputy district attorney Anthony Garilli called victim Christine Hightower to the witness stand in Department 7 that afternoon. She described how Bryon Baker, 56, had gone through four gates of High Heart Ranch in Rescue on Jan. 30, 2013; dragged out Heaven’s Trumpet, a 32-year-old Arabian horse; gone back through the gates, closing them; and had taken the horse across the street to Jayhawk Cemetery, where the horse was sexually assaulted and eventually tortured and killed.
The side of the barn where Baker snuck in, Hightower said, was not lit at the time. It was the “dead of night” when he broke into the barn. There was no security as she was “not expecting the devil to visit.” She found Trumpet the next morning, after searching the entire barn area. Garilli, apologizing, showed photos, and Hightower confirmed they were “Trumpy lying dead, covered in blood and wounds.” The horse was about 100 yards from the barn.
Hightower said she purchased the horse in 1983 for $14,000. And, although the horse was “irreplaceable,” she valued the horse at $3,500, “a pitiful pittance.” She added that there was no amount suitable, but defense attorney Clifford Safranski had required a number for restitution. She continued describing her late horse as a 32-year-old Arabian gelding that gave lessons after having retired from show competitions. All day Saturday and Sunday, Trumpet would be part of the lessons, she said. It was mostly lessons for children, but some adults also had lessons at the ranch. The horse had been at the peak of earning money for Hightower when killed, earning about $1,740 the month before.
After her horse was killed, she installed a security system, including cameras and motion-activated lights. “It’s good, common sense, once you saw what I saw,” she told Judge Douglas C. Phimister. “Not a bird, not a dog, not a deer, not a killer can get on the property without getting its picture taken,” she said. Despite this, she has been unable to sleep for more than two hours at a time. She said she is suspicious and nervous, and is wracked with anxiety — especially at night. The photos — more than the few Garilli showed — played “reel to reel in my head” and she “can’t make it stop.” But, she deals with it, she said, as she has to.
But for her broken heart, “nothing can fix that.” Every time she steps out of her house, in view of the cemetery, the scene of finding her beloved horse replays in her head. “(Baker) took something irreplaceable. Not just my boy, my joy, but my piece of mind.”
Under questioning from Safranski, Hightower said that there was no security system before the incident. Baker did no damage to the property, nor did he steal any equipment not already on the horse. “This was all about something disgusting,” Hightower said. Though the horse was worth nothing in insurance, Trumpet likely had between seven and 10 years of lessons left, making him quite valuable financially.
“He was in excellent condition,” she said, especially for being 32 years old. She did have liability insurance, as it is required to give lessons. She also lost money in boarding fees, as people had been boarding horses at High Heart Ranch no longer felt safe leaving their horses there. She said that, looking at the history of lessons, there was no reason to assume they would keep going month by month.
Phimister said his main problem was that he did not know how much money was being asked for restitution. Garilli pointed to the probation report, where it showed $7,638.16. Phimister said he did not have a monetary claim form, but Safranski was not contesting the number. Garilli handed in his copy of the form. “There is no price on … love and affection from the horse,” Phimister said. “The court understands that,” he said of the price assigned to the horse.
Garilli then asked for an additional $20,400 not originally listed as a year’s worth of lessons. Safranski objected to the security system, worth about $3,000, being included in the restitution as this was technically not a violent felony — it would be against a human, but not a horse. The judge agreed. He did not allow the security system to be incorporated into restitution.
The $4,741 for the value of the horse and removal and burial was awarded, Phimister said. He also said wages for the lessons could be calculated as an appropriate expense and, despite not being part of the paperwork, had been supplemented in the form of testimony. In total, he awarded $25,141 instead of the $7,638 originally asked for.
“This will not solve the grief this particular victim has suffered,” Phimister said. “The loss of an animal, well-cared for for a long time, is priceless.” He related an anecdote of how a veterinarian in court regarded a dog as chattel, while the dog was family to the victim. The dog and the dog’s brother had been the same as children to an otherwise childless couple. The vet had lost the dog’s remains after the sudden death of the dog, who was to be buried with its brother. The case had been dismissed, but brought back as an emotional distress case — and was successful for the victims. “The law looks at it one way. People who care for animals see it differently,” Phimister said. Safranski objected to the additional wages being added as restitution, but the judge overruled him, ending the hearing.
“Due to the fact that Baker pleaded guilty and there was no trial, I was not given the opportunity to publicly express my unrelenting pain and sorrow,” Hightower wrote in an e-mail to the Mountain Democrat. “Instead, I was compelled to battle the killer of my beloved horse, Heaven’s Trumpet, through the court via a victim’s claim for restitution. A claim for restitution that ‘will never pay a dime’ or alleviate my pain and suffering, in any way.”
She said the defense “denied my monetary claim on the grounds that my horse had no value due to his advanced age.”
With help from Susan Meyer, victim witness coordinator, and Garilli, “I found the courage to ‘face Trumpet’s killer’ in the court room and fight the denial of restitution,” she stated. “The pain I suffered from having to relive the horrific events of Jan. 30, 2013, was a small price to pay for outcome of the trial. With the passion and professionalism of DDA Garilli, my sorrow and rage found a strong and compassionate voice which allowed me to prevail, for Trumpet.”