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Former USDA Inspector Outraged by Jury Ruling
Despite Video Evidence, Missouri Puppy Mill Owner Acquitted of Felony in Shooting Incident
Jefferson City, MO - Stemming from a March 20, 1998 incident, in which a puppy mill owner fired shots at In Defense of Animals' (IDA) Director of Investigations, Marshall Smith, and two ABC News 30 employees, a Macon County, Missouri jury acquitted Mike Gochnauer of a felony charge for the "unlawful use of a firearm." In spite of video evidence showing Gochnauer lowering the barrel of his shotgun and the deadly sound of a shot being fired, the jury found Gochnauer guilty of a third degree assault - a misdemeanor.
Smith had taken the news crew to Gochnauer's federally licensed puppy mill near Laplata, MO to film the horrific conditions in which more than 100 dogs are kept. While Smith and the news crew filmed the puppy mill from public property, Gochnauer appeared with a shotgun, aimed and fired at them. After scrambling to safety, the victims of the assault called the Highway Patrol, who arrived with Macon County Sheriff Robert Dawson - himself once the owner of a puppy mill.
Although the prosecuting attorney had subpoenaed the three potential victims, only the cameraman was called to the witness stand. The State rested after calling one additional witness, Sheriff Dawson. Smith and the news reporter were not called to testify in this case.
"We appear to be the victims of a good-old-boy network in Macon County, Missouri," said Smith. "I have grave concerns with the outcome of this trial, especially considering the recent rash of highly publicized, fatal shootings in other parts of the country. Here was a crime that was caught on videotape involving a shotgun and three victims on public property. What an example for the kids in the community! I have no doubt that exposÚs of this nature are an embarrassment to USDA officials who have evidently rallied in behalf of Mr. Gochnauer."
Mark Westrich, USDA's Investigations and Enforcement Services Senior Investigator, was at the Macon County Court House the morning of the trial. Harold Becker, a retired USDA Inspector who had been inspecting Gochnauer's premises at the time the shooting incident occurred, also attended and testified for the defense at the trial.
IDA will file a formal complaint with the Inspector General for the USDA in the near future to clarify the role of USDA personnel in this matter.
IDA, based in Mill Valley, CA, is an international animal protection organization dedicated to ending the abuse and exploitation of animals by defending their rights, welfare and habitats. Marshall Smith is a former USDA inspector who now conducts animal cruelty investigations throughout the South and Midwest for IDA.
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