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      Judge rules search legal in horse abuse case

      An Ottawa County judge has determined that a search of an Oak Harbor farm that revealed dozens of starving horses was, in fact, legal. Evidence seized during that search will be admissable in court.

      On January 29, Ottawa County humane officer Nancy Silva responded to a report of emaciated horses at a farm owned by Robin Vess of Oak Harbor. There, Silva found 38 starved or starving Arabian horses in a barn. One horse was dead and six of the horses had to be euthanized. The remaining horses were confiscated and transported to the Sandusky County Fairgrounds where volunteers cared for them until they could be adopted by members of the Ariabian Rescue Mission.

      Vess was charged with 42 counts of animal cruelty -- a second degree misdemeanor. She pleaded not guilty.

      Vess and her attorney asked the court to exclude all evidence seized at the Vess farm because Silva -- an agent of the government -- did not have a search warrant and had unlawfully entered the barn and seized the horses.

      Judge Fritz Hany of the Ottawa County Municipal Court ruled that Silva had reasonable cause to believe that Robin Vess did give them consent to enter her barn and that an emergency existed as to the well being of the horses that were still alive.

      A final pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for April 12 at 2 PM with a trial scheduled for April 13 at 8:30 AM