MANATEE -- Jury selection began Monday for the trial of a couple charged with animal cruelty.
Alan Napier and his wife Sheree Napier sat in a courtroom Monday as a jury pool 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 face multiple charges nearly a year after a raid resulted in the confiscation of about 300 animals found in atrocious conditions.
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 told the jury pool Monday morning. "That's my goal."
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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 jury selection. Her husband sat to her right with his hand propped under his chin. Both were expressionless for most of the day.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant State Attorneys Garrett Franzen and Brian Iten.
"We're sorry that sometimes we're called upon to ask citizens to make sacrifices but, you know, sometimes we have to pay a little bit of a price for the kind of society that we want and that we live in," Dubensky told the jury pool early in the day. "Most of the times the only price that we pay is when we struck that check on April 15 or earlier but sometimes there are other prices to pay. I hope that the price won't be too high so we'll try to consider any reason that you give."
As part of the preliminary questioning, 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."
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.
Edward Dunham, a licensed veterinarian listed as the director of veterinary medicine at Napier's, was also charged with one count of aggravated animal cruelty in the case, but will not go to trial after entering into a pre-trial diversion program. If he completes all the requirements during his 12 months of supervision, the state will drop the charges against him. Dunham was forced to surrender all his licenses to practice veterinarian medicine.
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. They were also asked about their relationships to law enforcement officials and whether they have ever witnessed or been a victim in a criminal case.