|NYC Doctor, Wife Face Felony Horse Abuse Trial in Orange County Court
[Suzi and Whiskey News]
April 19, 2010
Public Outrage Leads to Precedent-Setting Charges
GOSHEN—After nearly a year of legal maneuvering, a felony animal abuse trial against New York City physician Chong S. Lee and his wife, Keum H. Lee, was scheduled to begin on Monday, April 19 in Orange County Court, representing a rare and possibly precedent-setting case in which prosecutors are seeking a felony conviction in a horse abuse case.
Dr. Lee and his wife, a physicist, stand accused of two counts each of aggravated cruelty to animals, a felony, and torturing and injuring animals, a misdemeanor, for their alleged mistreatment of two horses, Suzi and Whiskey, who were discovered on April 16th, 2009 close to death at 510 Prosperous Valley Road in the Town of Wallkill. The property is reportedly owned by the Lees.
“This was definitely the worst case of neglect I have ever seen” said Rachael Fiske of Pine Bush Equine, the veterinarian who responded with Town of Wallkill Police Officers to neighbors’ initial complaints about the animals. Fiske eventually treated the two horses for numerous life-threatening conditions, such as malnutrition and seriously infected wounds that required hours of corrective surgery. “Suzi, the palomino mare, was just a bag of bones, probably 600 pounds under weight,” she added.
After they were seized by police, Suzi and Whiskey were brought to Equine Rescue, a Bloomingburg-based nonprofit that boards and cares for abused horses from throughout the lower Catskills region. The two horses have lived at Equine Rescue’s facilities for the last year and have recovered significantly (please see www.equine-rescue.org) thanks to excellent veterinary services and ongoing restorative care.
Lynda Broas, Executive Director of Equine Rescue, was “overwhelmed” by the condition of Suzi and Whiskey when they were brought to her last year. “Over the last 15 years, Equine Rescue has handled hundreds of cases involving mistreated horses. But even I was shocked and disgusted at the severity of the abuse these two horses suffered,” said Broas. “That’s why so many people reached out to the community and asked folks to express their outrage at how badly Suzi and Whiskey had been treated and sought more appropriate criminal charges against the Lees.”
After an outpouring of community concern the matter was brought to an Orange County Grand Jury, which, in July, 2009 decided to indict both Dr. Lee and his wife on felony charges of aggravated cruelty to animals and the lesser misdemeanor charges of torturing and injuring animals. The charges are being pursued under a unique interpretation of Buster’s Law, which generally limits felony cases to be brought only when involving extreme intentional cruelty to pets and companion animals.
“This could be a precedent-setting case,” said Broas, explaining that most equine abuse cases result in misdemeanor charges, despite their severity, because horses are generally considered livestock, not companion animals. “In this case, it’s being asserted that Suzi and Whiskey were purchased as companion animals and, therefore, are entitled to the same legal protections as companion animals. It’s an important distinction and one that could help protect many horses in the future.”
The trial was scheduled to begin on Monday, April 19 before Orange County Court Judge Jeff Berry. The trial is being held at Orange County’s Government Center Building, 101 Main Street, Goshen, NY 10924.
Dear Friends of Suzi and Whisk,
I have information that suggests Monday, April 19 will most likely be dedicated to jury selection for this case, so if you are planning to attend, Tuesday, April 20 appears to be the day things will really begin to happen. Two numbers to call for trial updates are:
Judge Berry's Office: 845-291-3120
Orange County DA's office: (845) 291-2050
The case number: 00497-2009 (Chong and Keum Lee)
Some of you have asked where Suzi and Whiskey are being cared for at this time. Please be assured they are still being wonderfully cared for by Lynda Broas of Equine Rescue Inc., and they are thriving. The scars of their ordeal will be visible for the rest of their lives, but we like to think, for the horses, it's all a distant bad dream now. An aspect of this case, as it's being presented, is to win permanent custody of the horses, so that they may remain at Equine Rescue Inc., where they will be cared for with understanding and compassion, for life.
Again, thanks to all of you for caring, and staying the course for these two horses, who have been through so much. The language in which the felony animal abuse laws are written always presents an obstacle for the prosecution, but we remain hopeful, in this case, justice will at last be served.
Director, Sunnyskies Bird & Animal Sanctuary