GATE CITY - A 41-year-old Nickelsville man charged with cruelty to a herd of horses and ponies entered a plea Wednesday and will make restitution to the county for care of the animals.
Thirteen of Grover J. Kegley's horses were removed July 28, 2006, after they were found to be malnourished.
Of the original 13, one died shortly after the horses were seized. Another two were sick, but recovered.
Seven of the animals recovered well and were returned to Kegley. The five remaining animals - four miniatures horses and one pony - will be disposed of by the Scott County Regional Horse Association.
"Disposed of in the legal sense," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Dan Fellhauer.
Members of the association have cared for the horses since they were seized from Kegley's farm in July.
The decision was made to offer a plea agreement to Kegley in order to find the animals new homes more quickly, Fellhauer said.
"We wanted to do an adoption rather than an auction to get the best home for them," he said.
If the cases had been taken to trial, the horses could have been left in limbo until a final disposition of all the charges. That could have taken two years or more, Fellhauer said.
There is also the chance that a judge would have objected to Kegley being charged with six different counts of animal cruelty, Fellhauer said.
"In a similar case involving the neglect of dogs in Washington County, Virginia, the judge found the charges should have been condensed into one count," he said.
Kegley was given 12 months suspended jail time on each of six counts of animal cruelty. He will serve from one to three years of supervised probation depending on how well he follows the rules of his probation. He will serve the remainder of a six-year probation period unsupervised.
Kegley also agreed to pay $8,000 in restitution to the county and almost $2,000 in court costs, Fellhauer said.
"He agreed to pay the restitution for boarding and vet bills and to allow the horses to be adopted, Fellhauer said.
Though it would have been difficult to prove Kegley owned the horses and ponies, he was responsible for them at the time they were seized, Fellhauer said.
"He did a good thing by pleading guilty and taking responsibility," Fellhauer said.
After Kegley signs documents allowing the horses to be adopted, the Scott County Regional Horse Association will start a screening process, Fellhauer said.