BELFAST, Maine — Jurors heard a sharply different version of the events that led up to pigs getting exhumed from a mass grave in Swanville as the trial of a former farmer accused of animal cruelty continued on Wednesday at the Waldo Judicial Center.
Jerry Ireland, 44, who formerly owned and operated Ireland Hill Farms, faces four counts of animal cruelty after a judge dismissed several charges against against him. The remaining counts represent three pigs found by state agents on his farm nearly two years ago that did not die instantaneously after a gun was fired at their heads, according to testimony from two veterinarians who performed necropsies of them, and another malnourished pig that that is now living at an animal sanctuary.
According to state law, livestock must be slaughtered humanely. A person charged with cruelty to animals can be found guilty if they intentionally, knowingly or recklessly killed them by a method that does not cause instantaneous death.
“I do find that a jury could conclude that … the method was either intentional, knowing or reckless,” Justice Robert Murray said when the jury was not in the courtroom.
In addition to the testimony from the veterinarians, jurors saw a video of the exhumation that showed an excavator pulling pigs of all sizes from the ground and laying them in the snow.
Ireland’s lawyer, Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor, called several witnesses to testify on his client’s behalf — one had a very different take on the events of March 27, 2018, than the one jur ors heard Monday, the first day of the trial.
Michael Field, a Marine Corps veteran now living in the Dixmont area, met Ireland shortly before the alleged incident took place. He had been helping on the farm, feeding and watering the pigs, when the farmer told him he had to put down some livestock.
“I didn’t think he was really serious. I didn’t know what was going to be put down, or why. I was just helping a friend out at that point,” Field told the jury. “I was just the good soldier.”
The night before the pigs were killed, Field said he helped round up five or six pigs and put them in a trailer to be taken somewhere else.
“We headed over to the farm. The ones that we couldn’t catch had to be put down. We tried, we really did,” he said. “There was just two of us out there. I’m not skilled at chasing pigs … We had nowhere to put them, so we had to put them down.”
In Tzovarras’ opening statement, he said that Ireland killed the pigs because they were breeders that couldn’t be bred or sold anymore.
Field said he saw Ireland shoot the pigs with a handgun he believed was a .45 caliber — large enough to kill the pigs right away.
“[He] shot them point blank at the back of the head. They’d fall over. They were done,” he said.
Other witnesses who testified Wednesday included Rachael Fiske, the assistant state veterinarian, who said that all the exhumed pigs were in “thinner than acceptable” body condition. She said that a sow she necropsied weighed 400 pounds but should have weighed 550 to 600 pounds. The surviving pig was nearly emaciated, she said.
Fiske said that she was concerned that the pigs, which witnesses said had primarily been fed potato scraps, were not getting enough to eat.
“Anytime you have a population where they’re all suffering from one condition … was there a medical reason for them being overly thin, or was it a management or nutrition issue,” she told the court.
But Tom Wagner, who raises grass-fed beef and pastured pork at his farm in Waldo, testified that in addition to potato scraps, Ireland fed his pigs other foods, including grapes from a Lincolnville winery.
“I thought he had a pretty good, varied diet for the pigs, really,” the farmer said, adding that he never saw Ireland mistreat his livestock. “If you’re raising livestock to produce to sell and you’re mistreating them, you’re driving yourself out of business.”
The trial will continue Friday, when Ireland is expected to testify in his defense.