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Jury selected for Napier animal abuse case

MANATEE -- A jury has been selected to hear the animal abuse and fraud case against the husband-and-wife operators of an East Manatee animal shelter.

It took a day and a half for lawyers in the case involving Alan and Sheree Napier to select a jury.

Opening arguments and testimony could begin Tuesday afternoon.

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The following is an earlier version of the story.

Alan Napier and his wife, Sheree Napier, sat in a courtroom Monday as a jury pool, which began at 150 and was whittled down to 62, was questioned at length in the Manatee County Judicial Center through the early evening.

The owners of Napier's Log Cabin Horse and Animal Sanctuary in East Manatee face multiple animal abuse and fraud charges nearly a year after a raid resulted in the confiscation of about 300 animals found in atrocious conditions.

Jury selection will resume Tuesday morning.

Circuit Judge Peter Dubensky is presiding over the trial.

"This case is expected to last eight days so it will take all of this week and then through at least Wednesday of next week," Dubensky said. "That's my goal."

In order to accomplish this timeline, Dubensky said those involved will have to work late.

Jason Reid, defense attorney for Alan Napier, and Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Joynt-Sanchez, attorney for Sheree Napier, sat beside the couple who was first arrested April 7 and again June 2 on charges stemming from the sheriff's office investigation.

Dressed in a rich violet, Sheree jotted down notes throughout the day. Her husband sat to her right with his hand propped under his chin. Both remained mostly expressionless.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant State Attorneys Garrett Franzen and Brian Iten.

Potential jurors were asked about pet ownership. Row by row, Dubensky asked them to raise their hands if they own or have ever owned a dog or cat. Many raised their hands when asked if they owned a dog, and quite a few raised their hands when asked about cats. Some raised their hands for both, and a few said they owned or have owned horses.

"The fact that you own an animal does not disqualify you from serving as a juror in this case," the judge said. "The issue in this case, as in every criminal case, is whether or not the state can prove guilt."

In addition to whether they owned pets, the jury pool was also asked if they have ever donated their time or money to animal rights organizations.

Alan Napier, 52, is facing one count of scheming to defraud $50,000, three counts of soliciting to defraud and 15 counts of animal cruelty.

Sheree Napier, 46, is facing 14 counts of animal cruelty, one count of scheming to defraud $50,000 and one count of soliciting to defraud.

The couple is out on bond and, if convicted, could face from just more than three years or a maximum of 85 years in prison if sentenced consecutively, according to Franzen.

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 94-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.

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