GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) -- A Montana justice of the peace is set to hear arguments Monday on whether to dismiss animal cruelty charges against an Alaska couple.
Justice Pete Howard said he'll then decide whether Jon Harman and Athena Lethcoe-Harman of Nikiski should be retried on 181 counts of animal cruelty. A jury couldn't reach a verdict last month on the misdemeanor charges.
The Harmans were arrested at the Sweet Grass border station Nov. 1 after U.S. customs inspectors discovered their tractor trailer held 166 collies, five other dogs and 10 cats. The animals had traveled 2,240 miles over nine days and officials said they were dehydrated, wet, shivering and sick.
The Harmans were moving the collies from Alaska to a new home in Arizona. Officials confiscated the animals and filed the charges.
The case was moved to Choteau in Teton County after a six-person Toole County jury deadlocked on the charges following a seven-day trial. Justice of the Peace Janice Freeland declared a mistrial and recused herself from further proceedings.
In his motion asking Judge Howard to return the collies to the Harmans, defense attorney Scott Albers says numerous problems have arisen with Toole County's care of the animals.
Specifically, Albers cited the death of a collie in the hours after the Harmans' arrest; the theft of the couple's fox terrier from the search and rescue building; the recent death of another collie after undergoing surgery; and the mangled ear of one of Lethcoe-Harman's show dogs, Crown Jewel, ''which has ended her show quality status.''
Veterinarians testified during the first trial that the first dog to die was already in bad shape when the Harmans reached the border. The second dog, a female at least 10 years old, died 3 1/2 weeks ago after undergoing surgery for a malignant tumor, said Toole County Undersheriff Don Hale.
Hale confirmed that a male fox terrier, said to be Jon Harman's personal dog, was stolen Dec. 27 and neutered the same day.
The terrier was returned on Feb. 14 and felony charges of tampering with physical evidence and obstruction of justice are likely, Hale said.
Toole County Attorney Merle Raph acknowledged that a dog received wounds to its ear, but ''with 170 dogs to care for, incidents like that may happen despite the best of care.''
''The court may wish to examine the dogs and the cats and review their care,'' Raph added.
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