|Barked: Fri Dec 9, '11 4:05am PST |
|A Willow man accused of 50 counts of animal cruelty stemming from a raid on his dog breeding business backed out of a plea agreement Wednesday.
Frank Rich appeared before District Court Judge David Zwink in a black collared shirt with a neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard. To get there he had to navigate a gauntlet of protesters wearing placards bearing pictures of his dogs.
"I'm here for the dogs, all of them," was the most common slogan on the signs.
Before the details of the agreement reached could be put on the record, Rich's attorney, Chong Yim, told Zwink his client planned to back out of the deal. The prosecutor expressed disappointment.
"Obviously, the state is disappointed that this isn't ending today, but obviously we can't force Mr. Rich to change his plea," assistant district attorney Lindsey Burton said. "There is very little the state can say at this point."
Addressing the gallery, which at this point contained two or three dozen of the protestors, though now without their signs, Zwink explained that Rich was exercising his rights.
"That's the right that is given to very citizen. The state cannot force someone to accept that deal," the judge said.
He set a pre-trial conference hearing date of Jan. 12 - oddly, almost exactly a year after he was arrested - to see if the case was ready to go before a jury and asked attorneys to have their motions filed by the end of the month.
As they filed out of the courtroom, one protestor stopped to tell Rich that if he thought he'd be avoiding a crowd by delaying proceedings he was wrong. She predicted double the number of protestors present Wednesday would attend future court hearings.
"I don't care how many people come here. I really don't," Rich said.
Rich's case began in mid-January when the Mat-Su Borough seized 157 dogs found on his property, almost all of them malnourished and dehydrated, according to Alaska State Troopers reports. Rich was a breeder of husky/malamutes and told troopers he'd lost his job in October 2010, after which he had trouble feeding his dogs. In addition to the live dogs, troopers found 22 dead dogs, a couple of them still chained up.
Read more: Animal Abuse: 150 dogs seized from breeder's home, 22 dead - Willow, AK | Pet-Abuse.Com Animal Cruelty Database http://www.pet-abuse.com/cases/17218/AK/US/#UPDATES#ixzz1g2QqXc3C
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