Saturday, Dec. 09, 2023 |
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The fatal shooting of a Honomu couple’s horse last month is now in the hands of prosecutors.
“The police referred it to us last week, and we just got it,” County Prosecutor Kelden Waltjen said Tuesday.
“Because it’s a firearms case, we have to determine whether or not we’ll be looking at any follow-ups regarding ballistics or anything of that nature,” he said.
Onyx, a Friesian mare belonging to Craig Burkholder and Hal Fansler, was found dead, apparently of a single gunshot wound, on the married couple’s property the morning of Sept. 19.
The slaying of the horse, reportedly by a hunter hired by neighbors to rid their own property of feral swine, left Uhane, Onyx’s foal, motherless.
A suspect, described by Waltjen as a young adult man, has been identified by police and prosecutors, but his name hasn’t been made public since he hasn’t been arrested or charged. Potential charges under review include: first-degree criminal property damage, second-degree cruelty to animals, second-degree reckless endangering, illegal night hunting on private property, and hunting without a license.
The most serious charge under consideration, first-degree criminal property damage, is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It’s the only felony among the offenses under investigation.
“Criminal property damage means you have to intentionally damage property,” Waltjen said. He added intent will be difficult to prove in this case, which has been characterized as accidental, “at least from what I’ve seen in the media.”
Burkholder said last month he and his husband feared they would lose the foal because she wasn’t eating after losing her mother, but said on Monday that Uhane, now 17-weeks-old, is doing “much better.”
“We don’t sleep in the barn anymore because she’s OK,” he said. “She’s been bonding with one of our geldings, He’s kind of taken her in and is trying to teach her how to be a horse, because she didn’t have an identity. Her identity was her mother. I think (Sunday) night was the first time she finished her (feed) since Onyx was killed.
“She has gained some weight, which is good.”
Conversely, Burkholder said he and Fansler aren’t doing well.
“We still can’t sleep. We’re up at one, or two, or three” in the morning, he said. “At this point, 3 a.m. is like sleeping in. But we’re very happy that we don’t feel in fear of losing the baby, at this point. And that’s what we try to focus on. And since that transition, the grief of losing Onyx and looking into the field and not seeing Onyx anymore, that has played out a lot stronger.”
According to Burkholder, he’s been advised that any liability the neighbors may be subject to is a civil matter, and added he doesn’t understand why they don’t share any possible criminal culpability with the alleged shooter.
“For their irresponsible, quick and dirty sort of actions to try to resolve their problem — with no regard for everyone else — it’s really kind of shattered some dreams,” he said.
Burkholder said he’s unaware of any continued night hunting or gunfire in the area, but finds little consolation in that.
“I don’t feel safe anymore. And I don’t feel safe with my animals in my field anymore,” he said. “There’s a gate between the neighbors and us, and we did put a padlock and ‘no hunting’ (and) ‘no trespassing’ signs. We bring the horses in at night, where before, Uhane was never confined inside. She would just come and go, and that would be with her mama.”
Waltjen acknowledges “a lot of outrage over the incident” as there is regarding the apparently accidental shooting death on Aug. 28 of 11-year-old Boy Scout Manuel “Manny” Carvalho at Camp Honokaia near Honokaa. Prosecutors are reviewing 23 potential firearms-related charges in that incident, all misdemeanors, against three men.
“I’m really hoping it brings awareness to firearms safety,” Waltjen said. “These are just the worst-of-the-worst scenarios. Two incidents like this happening in our community is just scary.”
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