Judge likely to decide egg farm cruelty case in mid-April
ELIZABETHTOWN, Pa. -- A judge says she will likely decide next month on animal cruelty charges against officials of one of the state's largest egg production operations.
Esbenshade Farms owner and chief executive H. Glenn Esbenshade and farm manager Jay Musser each face 35 counts of animal cruelty for conditions at the Mount Joy farm. Each violation carries a potential fine of $50 to $750 and as much as 90 days in prison.
Authorities allege that birds were housed in cruel conditions, with the key evidence being a 19-minute video shot by an animal rights activist who worked undercover at the farm.
Humane Society police officer Johnna L. Seeton said the videotape shows dead birds left in cages with live hens so long the carcasses had disintegrated, and others impaled on or trapped by cage wires that kept them out of reach of food and water.
Seeton brought the charges following a viewing of the videotape in December 2005, after it was brought to her attention by Compassion Over Killing, a Washington, D.C.-based animal rights group.
Defense attorneys Chris Patterson and Michael T. Winters presented testimony Friday from several witnesses who inspected some areas of the farm more than a month after the videotape was shot.
University of Pennsylvania staff veterinarian Eric N. Gingerich said he didn't see any conditions like those on the videotape when he inspected Esbenshade Farms in January 2006.
Gingerich conceded, however, that some of the dead birds in the videotape appeared to have dehydrated and starved. He said farm workers should have freed the birds and agreed with prosecutor Dara Lovitz that those cases constitute neglect.
Esbenshade and Musser did not take the stand, but production manager Wayne Lehman testified that he did not know of any effort to improve conditions before the January 2006 inspection.
Lehman, who oversees poultry house workers maintaining the operation's 500,000 hens, said the industry's slim profit margins depend on proper care for hens.
"I don't think you'd save any money by mistreating the birds," he said.
Elizabethtown District Judge Jayne F. Duncan said she expects to decide the case in mid-April, after both sides submit final comments and she has reviewed court decisions cited during the trial.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.