Judge cites lack of evidence in case
that drew national media attention
September 19, 2007
LAPEER — District Court Judge Laura C. Barnard ruled Thursday that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with felony animal torture and killing charges against Mark and Ellen Mills of Imlay Township.
A pretrial hearing on two misdemeanor charges against the couple will resume on Oct. 25. Those charges include having an unlicensed dog and failing to bury dead animals.
The couple and their two children, Kate, 20, and Andrew, 18, were charged last March after Lapeer County Animal Control officers found a dead horse and several dead lambs on their Weyer Road property.
Charges against Kate Mills were dismissed in June when it was determined she was a student at Michigan State University and not living at home when the alleged abuse took place.
Mark Mills said in March that the horse had died of natural causes and the lambs were stillborn. He added that the animals were not buried at the time because the ground was too hard.
In May, Lapeer County prosecutors called a series of experts, including Sheriff's deputies, Animal Control officers and veterinarians, to testify that the dead animals had been victims of neglect and malnutrition before they died.
One expert witness, Dr. Dalen Agnew, a pathologist who conducted a necropsy on the horse at MSU, attributed the 695-pound mare's death to severe esophogeal obstruction (choke). Under further questioning by Mills' attorney, David Richardson, Agnew said the condition could have been caused by factors other than abuse or malnutrition. Agnew also said during cross-examination that the passage of time between the horse's death and the execution of the necropsy was "not ideal for forming conclusions."
"The county's witnesses basically supported our case," said Ellen Mills. "We never should have been charged. All of this could have been avoided had they made the effort to find out what the situation was."
Mills hopes the dismissal of felony charges will be the precursor to a return to relative normalcy for the family.
Before charges were dismissed against Kate Mills, the MSU student was stripped of her title as Oakland County's 4-H queen based on the allegations. Kate and the family were also the subject of numerous television, newspaper and Internet reports, leading to verbal and written attacks against the family, said Ellen Mills.
"This has taken a huge personal toll on our family— emotional, financial and physical," she said. "They put us through six months of hell. We're a wreck."
While the felony charges are now behind them, Mills feels the controversy surrounding the case has permanently damaged the family's reputation.
"There were people in that courtroom who reacted in shock to the judge's ruling," said Ellen. "They still judge us based only on the fact that we were charged—even though there was no evidence. They still think we did these things. Our family
name has forever been besmirched."