GILLETTE — “Where’s the beef?” defense attorney Nick Carter asked the jury before it deliberated for five hours to determine if a Rozet rancher was guilty of felony destruction of property for shooting his neighbor’s breeding bull in the penis, testicles and hindquarter during a dispute over a fence line.
It turns out there wasn’t much beef because the jury found Todd Slattery, 51, not guilty of the felony but it did find him guilty of a lesser charge — misdemeanor destruction of property.
While he was attending a rodeo in Oklahoma in July 2016, Slattery’s neighbor, Jim Engel, said he received several angry voicemails, including one in which Slattery threatened, “that bull will never breed again.” He also told law enforcement he and Slattery were fighting over the location and repair of a fence.
When Engel returned to his ranch, he found that his bull had been shot numerous times.
Veterinarians determined the bull, which Engel estimated was worth $3,500 in July 2016, could no longer be used for breeding and suggested that once the bull healed, it could be butchered and sold for between $1,640 and $2,040.
A couple of days after finding his wounded bull, Engel secretly recorded a conversation with Slattery in an attempt to get a confession. In the recording, Slattery admitted to shooting the bull, apologized and offered to pay $1 per pound, or about $2,200 to $2,500.
That fall, Engel euthanized the bull, which he had purchased in 2013 for about $2,000, because he said it wasn’t recovering and because antibiotics had rendered it useless as beef.
In convicting Slattery of misdemeanor destruction of property, the jury of 10 men and two women concluded that Engel’s loss was less than $1,000.
In his closing argument, Carter argued that the prosecution hadn’t presented enough evidence about the value of Engel’s property loss. Without providing vet bills, it’s impossible to know the cost of the shooting, he said. Because Engel euthanized the bull — which no medical professional had recommended — there wasn’t a receipt of sale to a butcher, so the bull’s value as beef was also unknown.
In addition, Engel was the only witness who provided information about the bull’s value before it was shot.
“All we have is the seller’s opinion,” Carter said. “And anybody that’s ever sold a car knows that what the seller thinks it’s worth and what the buyer thinks it’s worth are often quite a bit different.”
Carter also argued that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that Slattery shot the bull intentionally. The only evidence that he shot it in anger, and not accidentally as he had claimed, was from a voicemail Engel said Slattery had left but which Engel didn’t have a recording of.
Given that Engel had saved other voicemails from Slattery and had surreptitiously recorded one of their conversations, Carter argued the absence of the threatening voicemail was suspicious.
In his closing statement, Campbell County Deputy Attorney Jonah Buckley said that while Engel and his family were in Oklahoma, Slattery shot the bull, which “went from a fully functional breeding bull down to nothing more than a sack of meat.”
He said Slattery’s claim that he shot the bull accidentally when it ended up on his property and was fighting with his animals didn’t line up with the angry, threatening voicemails Slattery had left or with the fact that the bull had countless shotgun pellets in its hindquarter, penis and testicles.
In terms of the value of the loss, Buckley pointed out that Slattery had offered to pay Engel $2,200 to $2,500, showing the bull’s value was more than $1,000 shortly before Engel euthanized it.
District Judge Thomas W. Rumpke has yet to set a sentencing date for Slattery, who faces a penalty of up to six months in jail and $750.