Owner of neglected horse ‘Elsa’ appears in court for animal cruelty

Elsa, a yearling who was found frozen to the ground and malnourished was removed from the custody of an Enoch resident on Jan. 2. Enoch, Utah, Jan. 2, 2014| Photo courtesy of Dust Devil Ranch Sanctuary for Horses, St. George News

CEDAR CITY – The owner of Elsa, a horse so malnourished and neglected that she drew worldwide outrage, appeared in court Monday to face charges. Elsa was found emaciated and frozen to the ground in January, and later died despite heroic efforts to save her. She was one of two horses seized from an Enoch man who is now facing animal cruelty and related charges.

The public was allowed inside the courtroom to watch as the horses’ owner, Sonn Kent Berrett, of Enoch, met with Deputy Iron County Attorney II Candace Reid at the Iron County Justice Court to discuss the details of his charges and the future of his case.

Berrett was charged in early 2014 with four class B misdemeanors for cruelty to an animal and failure to obtain dog licensing; and two class B misdemeanors for failure to obtain rabies vaccinations.

After convening to a conference room located just outside of the courtroom, both parties returned to deliver the results of the conversation to Judge Brent Dunlap.

Reid told the judge that a resolution had been met in the case, but that she wanted Berrett to return at a later date to discuss the “entry of fee” and sentencing. Reid requested a late February 2015 date, but the court calendar is full until late March 2015, so the case was continued until then.

Monday’s status hearing drew a smaller crowd than a similar court appearance on Oct. 29, but Elsa’s supporters still filled nearly half of the courtroom.

When the undernourished and neglected horses were removed from Berrett’s custody and moved to the Dust Devil Ranch Sanctuary for Horses, they were both nearly 300 pounds underweight and in very poor health, Dust Devil Ranch founder Ginger Grimes said.

One horse, Anna, began to recover quickly, and is now doing well, Grimes said, but Elsa, who was found lying down and frozen to the ground, was in much poorer shape than her mother. Elsa lost hair and patches of skin from being frozen to the ground, and also had damage to her lip, teeth, gums and one eye, Grimes said.

When the horses were removed from Berrett’s property, Iron County Animal Control Officer Chris Johnson said that Elsa’s body temperature was 92 degrees. A healthy horse should have a temperature between 99 and 100 degrees, she said.

Volunteers rallied around the young horse, holding vigil at her side 24 hours a day. Elsa died on Jan. 18. The death was reported to thousands of  supporters who had been following Elsa’s story on Dust Devil Ranch’s Facebook.

After Monday’s decision to continue the Berrett case for sentencing and entry of fees was announced, Grimes said she did not feel that justice was being served. It is frustrating to have nothing final to walk out of the door with, she said.

According to court documents, Berrett’s father called the court early Monday to ask if getting a public defender was still an option. The document states that he was told the request would have to be made at the status hearing, and that there would have to be a hearing to determine if Berrett would qualify for a public defender.

Though Reid said that the case had reached a resolution, no details about that resolution were discussed in open court, and no mention of a defense attorney was made. Each class B misdemeanor could carry a sentence of up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

Horse owner Lisa Pedersen said that she had little confidence this case would yield any results that would honor the suffering Elsa endured. The law is not set up that way in the state of Utah, she said, but she hopes Elsa’s case will help to enact change.

“You can’t blame local law enforcement, you can’t blame local animal control, you can’t blame even the county attorney who seems to be kind of refusing to push this one forward,” Pedersen said. “What it stems from is weak Utah law for animal abuse.”

Working to make Utah laws stronger for cases of animal abuse is a long-term goal, Pedersen said. Until laws change, she said, cases of severe cruelty and neglect will only be subject to a misdemeanor violation carrying little more than a “slap-on-the-wrist fine.”

After the status hearing Monday, Berrett was escorted out of the front door to the court building and to the parking lot by a court bailiff. After the Oct. 29 hearing, the lobby was full of Elsa supporters, and Berrett was taken out the back of the courthouse.

When approached by St. George News, Berrett declined to comment.

Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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Carin Miller

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • arts and letters December 30, 2014 at 9:57 am

    If animals could pay tithes, maybe the Utah laws would be tougher regarding their abuse. This tragic story begs a key question: Where was Berrett when this poor animal was freezing and what was he doing?

    • Dana December 31, 2014 at 4:44 am

      ARTS AND LETTERS, you are so right!

    • Joe Smith December 31, 2014 at 11:26 am

      They do pay their tithes. Have you eaten a ham sandwich lately?…

  • Paul December 30, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Let’s put him out there in the cold and snow and let him freeze to the ground and see how he like it maybe loose alittle skin

    • My Evil Twin December 30, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      AMEN! Paul. Let this sorry piece of crap see what it feels like.

  • real life December 30, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Why is it Utah has literally no repercussions for animal cruelty? Just wondering.

    • Joe Smith December 30, 2014 at 11:17 am

      It seems there’s only repercussions if it’s a dog or cat. These poor old horses and sheeps and things don’t seem to matter.

      • mesaman December 30, 2014 at 7:10 pm

        Sheeps??? Baaaad boy.

      • mesaman December 30, 2014 at 9:45 pm

        Sheeps? You baaaaad boy.

    • Dana December 31, 2014 at 4:43 am

      There are no repercussions because so many are clueless re:care for their animals to begin with. Look at how they are with their own children and that should provide some background into their thinking process. How many times have you seen parents/guardians walk out of a store and the kids are trailing behind them? No one is watching them because they are too busy on their phones. These are the same dummies from the same gene pool.

  • sagemoon December 30, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Scum bag.

  • Chacobrig December 30, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Berrett was eating very well while his horses were slowly starving out in his backyard, His facebook posts mentioned ” food coma” and ” having the meat sweats” . He should never be allowed to own any animals ever again, and be fined heavily and have some jail time!!

    • Lisa Pedersen December 30, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      Yeah, saw that. Awesome watching these poor horses starve in his backyard while they enjoyed Thanksgiving.

    • Monika Courtney January 19, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      I agree. Most guardians who neglect animals so cruelly know well they are suffering and their lack of conscience is manifested solely in the lack of tough laws. They know they will get away with it or get a slap on the wrist… if this guy gets only that… then a protest is due to send a message. Gather with signs and DEMAND the DA to change and the laws to amend. When the public is outraged those with their careers on the public chopping block will get the drift….

  • Melda December 30, 2014 at 3:15 pm


    If you can’t or don’t want an animal find it a home.

  • Lisa Pedersen December 30, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Its only a felony in UT ( along with only 4 other States ) if the charge’s include ” torture ” and also only on a registered service animal or police K-9. Meaning that according to the UT laws, you cannot abuse a dog or cat ( horse ect. ) past a Class B misdemeanor, the same as having an unlicensed dog or missing the rabies shot. UT is currently ranked with the 4 other States as being ” the 5 worst places to live for animals ” because of it. Pathetic.

    • My Evil Twin December 30, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      Pathetic, but not at all surprising, when you see what some Utah folks do to their own children. 🙁

    • IN THE GAME December 30, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      You are right on Lisa. In fact my dog and I were just watching the Jazz game on television, when he suddenly looked me right in the eyes and said,” You know Game, (he calls me Game) I’ve decided to move to Vermont.” He went on to say that under Vermont law it would be a felony crime to torture him by making him watch the Utah Jazz play.

  • Charlie FenceJumper December 30, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Can’t u give these animals away to a goverment ran safe house. I could afford my child and I certainly want just going to leave it and let it end up like this horse. Luckily I gave it to the Catholic Child Mission. I would things there would be something like this for horses. Some people should own animals. Hope they through the book at them.

  • Koolaid December 30, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    Will his bishop and church status save him from prosecution or a sentence & penalty that he deserves? Stay tuned?

  • Realistic December 30, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    If you can’t or won’t care for an animal in a humane manner, you should not have an animal. Period. I also think once you are convicted of such a thing that you should not be allowed to own more animals. This “person” should be locked up for a long time! There is no excuse for this. If he can do this to an animal, I would hate to see how he treats his fellow man . . .

  • koolaid December 30, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    If it had been a child frozen outdoors, would there be a fundraiser?

    • ladybugavenger December 30, 2014 at 11:16 pm

      Stands to reason

  • arts and letters December 31, 2014 at 10:43 am

    A lot of commenters seem to be taking this situation rather lightly, but we know for sure that this animal abuse issue is not something the state of Utah promotes in all the “we’re the best” “we’re in the top ten states” cheerleading it does. Something like this speaks volumes about those who run the state – priorities and all that. If the Pope is right and animals can go to heaven, this poor beast will be there while the dumb state and local politicians who let this happen will be banging on the door forever (despite what the Church of Utah promises them). The perp on trial is not even get as far as the door.

  • Tanya December 31, 2014 at 10:57 am

    This murderer belongs in jail.

  • Joe Smith December 31, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Being starved and frozen to death would probably be a welcome reprieve from what a lot of these animals have to endure day to day.

  • Atleastiknowimstupid December 31, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    all of you know it all do goodies can thank yourselves for the same kind of fate to the mustang population un controlled they have proliferated to the point of natural reduction which is exactly the same fate as you see in this story you can blame some church you can blame politicos right or left you can blame cows but the sad truth is you idiots are to blame all of you should be locked up with mr Barrett by the way Koolaid thanks for the ride to church

  • Monika Courtney January 2, 2015 at 9:22 am

    It is a repeat travesty occurring in this country on a regular bases, not just in Utah. America is in the stone age when it comes to animal protection laws. The dismissal of taking the suffering of animals into serious consideration with leading to consequences for those who cause it, is disgusting. The laws suck and need amending everywhere, especially for horses / livestock. No one ought to get away with this. This owner/guardian should be sent to Siberia for a couple of months. He also ought to never be able to own horses/animals again. America must get a clue and prosecute in a harsher way – set an example – as for all else people get in trouble, yet these incidents are overlooked. SHAME on America.

  • hoofandpick January 2, 2015 at 10:47 am

    scumbag. The state is to blame as well as they turn a blind eye to animal abuse. Just look at how Utah wants to get rid of the wild horses. Shame in America INDEED

  • Craig C. Downer January 2, 2015 at 11:44 am

    Yes, how would Barrett like freezing to death?!

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