BISMARCK, N.D. — William Kiefer has pleaded guilty to nine animal abuse charges for the deaths of more than 100 horses and the starvation of others.
Kiefer did not appear in court Friday to plead guilty to the charges, but his attorney, Charles Stock, entered the pleas to the nine counts of Class A misdemeanor overworking, mistreating or abandoning animals. Defendants in misdemeanor cases do not have to appear in court if they designate that their attorneys are appearing for them. Kiefer has not appeared at any of the hearings in the case or related civil cases involving the surviving animals.
South Central District Judge Tom Schneider ordered a presentence investigation be conducted. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail. Attorneys in the case have recommended sentences that would put Kiefer in jail or on electronic monitoring for 120 days and on supervised probation for two years. He also would have to pay $1,500 in fines to animal rescue operations.
In late January, officials in Morton and Burleigh counties seized more than 150 horses and mules from properties owned by Kiefer after finding 96 dead animals on property northwest of New Salem and three dead on pasture east of Bismarck. Several other animals later died. Kiefer is accused in both the Burleigh County and Morton County cases of failing to provide necessary food, water and shelter to his animals.
According to a complaint in the Morton County case, one count of overworking, mistreating or abandoning animals is in response to a group of horses and mules found dead on a hilltop in the pasture northwest of New Salem, another count is for animals found dead in a barn and a third count is for dead animals in a Quonset and nearby trailer. A fourth count is for animals found dead in a hay yard, while the fifth count is for all the surviving animals.
Three of the charges in Burleigh County are for animals found dead on Kiefer's property, and the fourth charge is for the surviving animals.
Prosecutors and Stock recommended Kiefer be sentenced to one year in jail on all of the charges, with all but 120 days suspended, two years of supervised probation and court fees. Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Justin Schwartz and Morton County Assistant State's Attorney Gabrielle Goter recommended Kiefer pay a $750 fine in each county to either a humane society or Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue, which took in many of the horses in the case and helped get them adopted.
Under the recommendations, Kiefer would be able to serve the sentence under electronic monitoring rather than in a jail.
The attorneys said the recommendation was appropriate because it took into consideration how serious the case was and the fact that Kiefer has no prior criminal history. Schwartz said a typical first offense for such a case would be resolved with a deferred or suspended sentence.
Schneider is not bound by the attorneys' recommendations and could sentence Kiefer up to the maximum. Stock mentioned Kiefer has had mental health issues that predate the problems with the horses, and Schneider said he wanted to see any psychiatric evaluations completed in the case so he would have more information about Kiefer.
Stock said Kiefer has a "deep affinity for equine animals" but let the situation on his Burleigh and Morton county properties get out of control. Kiefer is ashamed and feels badly for the animals, Stock said. He said Kiefer is a "good, decent man."
"I've known him basically my entire adult life," he said.