Wendi Cox, convicted and jailed for 60 years over her involvement in the theft of five horses and tack from Southern Arkansas University’s Mulerider Stables, has lost her appeal against conviction.
Cox, 40, went to the Arkansas Court of Appeals following her conviction on eight counts of theft for stealing five horses, a horse trailer, and tack from the stables.
Cox received consecutive prison sentences totaling 60 years.
Judge Rita Gruber, in her decision, denied Cox’s motion to dismiss the conviction. Cox, represented by John Stroud, had argued that no credible evidence of her guilt was introduced.
“Specifically, she contends that the only evidence presented to the jury linking her to the crimes was testimony that was inconsistent or was provided by individuals with motives to lie,” Gruber said, in a ruling of behalf of the three-judge panel.
“We hold that substantial evidence supports the jury’s verdict, and we affirm her convictions.”
Gruber said Cox’s boyfriend, William “Billy” Hamilton, testified at trial that appellant and her daughter, Jaci Jackson, developed a plan to steal horses from the university in retaliation for an alleged assault on Jackson by one of the rodeo team members.
At that time, Jackson was a member of the rodeo team. He said that the original plan was to sell the horses. Hamilton testified that the plan was carried out by him and a friend of his, George Berrish, on November 3, 2011.
The judge traversed the evidence in the case, in which the five horses were taken across the state line into Oklahoma. Four animals were later found in a stressed condition tied to trees, while the fifth, Credit Card, was found to have been killed and dismembered because the horse was considered to be a high profile animal and easily recognised.
“The test for determining sufficiency of the evidence is whether there is substantial evidence, direct or circumstantial, to support the verdict,” Judge Gruber said.
Cox had argued that the only evidence presented to the jury linking her to the crimes was inconsistent or it was provided by individuals with motives to lie.
However, the judge said determinations of the credibility of witnesses’ testimony and the resolution of questions of conflicting testimony were a matter for the jury.
“The trier of fact is free to assess inconsistencies in witness testimony. Several witnesses testified that [Cox] planned the thefts, gave a map of the stables to Billy and George, provided the use of her truck for the thefts, assisted Billy and George in hiding the trailer at her aunt and uncle’s home, directed Billy to kill one horse and hide the remaining four horses, and secured a place for Billy and George to hide at Jaci’s after they tied the horses to trees.
“Leaving determinations of credibility and conflicting testimony with the jury and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, we hold that substantial evidence supports the verdict.”
Cox, of Howorth, Oklahoma, must serve at least 10 years of the 60-year sentence before being eligible for parole.
A jury in El Dorado, Union County, Arkansas, found her guilty of the charges in March last year after deliberating for just half an hour.
In the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury, comprising nine women and three men, proposed a 60-year jail term. Judge Larry Changler accepted the jury’s recommendation.
Local media reported that some onlookers were in tears as members of the rodeo team spoke of the impact of the case during the sentencing phase.
Rodeo team leader Shaun Smith, who lost Credit Card, told Magnoliareporter.com after the trial: “These animals weren’t just pets to us. They were team-mates. They were friends.”
The other horses were owned by Ashley Mills, Ty Lester, Hope Shelton and D.J. Dickinson
The appeal court’s decision can be read here.