The future of Nosey, the seized circus Elephant, is still up in the air after Lawrence County District Judge Angela Terry said she will review over 40 pages of notes from two separate hearings before making a verdict.
The hearing to determine whether or not Nosey, a 35-year-old female African Elephant, will be returned to her owner, showman Hugo Liebel, lasted from 9 a.m. until approximately 7 p.m. Friday with only a few short breaks in between.
Nosey and four small horses were seized from Liebel last month by Lawrence County Animal Control Officer Kimberly Carpenter when he stopped in Lawrence County to repair his trailer. The Elephant was taken to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.
Following the hearing, Hugo and his wife, Franciszka Liebel, were arrested on two misdemeanour animal cruelty charges Saturday morning. They posted bail at $1,500.
The Liebels were represented by Tuscumbia attorney Billy Underwood. The prosecution was led by Assistant District Attorney Callie Waldrep.
Within the first few minutes of the trial, Underwood challenged the court as to why the Liebels were not allowed to visit Nosey at the sanctuary since her seizure.
“The only analogy I would make to the court is if this were a child abuse case, we would not allow them to see their child,” Waldrep said.
The sanctuary says on its website it does not allow unauthorized visitors.
“We’re acting like Nosey is more than a human being, like she is a deity,” Underwood said.
Carpenter was the first of the witnesses called by Waldrep. She was asked about the circumstances surrounding the seizure of the Elephant and explained that she received several complaints about the Elephant’s condition before making the decision to visit the animal. Like in the first hearing, Carpenter was asked to evaluate a photo of Nosey in the trailer.
“In the photograph, the Elephant is tied and a large amount of faeces is at its back feet,” Carpenter said. The trailer was parked at the corner of 246 and Alabama 157 in front of a diesel mechanic shop.
“My biggest concern was the swaying back and forth,” Carpenter said, who believed the behaviour might be indicative of stress as it is in horses.
She also observed a leaking bucket in the trailer that she presumed was used for Nosey’s water.
Carpenter made it clear that she was “absolutely not” an Elephant expert.
During her testimony, Underwood objected repeatedly, claiming her testimony was based on hearsay. He was overruled by the judge more often than not.
“You were out there and found one little poop pile didn’t you?” Underwood asked Carpenter when it was his time to cross-examine her.
One of her main concerns was the amount of faeces around the feet of Nosey.
Waldrep said the state intends to return the horses to the Liebels. The horses have been kept at an undisclosed farm in Lawrence County.
“There was no outward anything that I saw that was wrong with the ponies,” Carpenter said.
Underwood took issue with Delcianna Winders, an attorney for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sitting with the state, so Terry asked her to sit in the stands.
The second witness called by the state was Shae Culvertson of Cullman. She was asked to describe her encounter with Liebel in where she says he asked for feed because they had no money. She said she obliged and purchased $40 worth of alfalfa hay for Nosey.
“Have you ever eaten something so rich it made you go to the bathroom?” Underwood asked Culvertson, attempting to draw a correlation between the type of hay and the amount of faeces found in the trailer.
The third and final witness called by the state was Dr. Lydia Young, resident veterinarian at The Elephant Sanctuary. Young was deemed an expert witness due to her years of working with Elephants and other large exotic animals in Asia and other parts of the world.
Young said she has monitored Nosey’s health every day since she arrived at the sanctuary and that Nosey showed signs of a deep skin infection, musculoskeletal disease, and a possible urinary tract infection.
“Nosey was the most severe build-up of hyperkaratosis I’ve ever observed, and I have seen thousands of Elephants throughout my career,” Young said. “In my opinion, Nosey needs daily veterinary care.”
“Her urine was very abnormal which could indicate a bacterial infection of the urinary tract,” Young said.
She described Nosey’s skin condition as “manageable, but not curable.”
The first witness the defence called was Dr. Mark Wilson, a Florida veterinarian who said he worked in zoos since he was 12-years-old. He was deemed an expert witness.
His testimony was largely contradictory to the evidence provided by the state. Wilson said the Elephant was mostly healthy other than the skin condition which he referred to as “common” and alluded that the sanctuary was not caring for Nosey properly, citing weight gain and a broken tusk acquired at the facility.
Wilson said the Liebel’s method of treating the skin condition, which involves the use of a wire brush and the application of oils. Sometimes, he said, they would scrub until blood appeared.
Waldrep asked several more questions in regards to how Nosey was chained.
“Stop using the word chained,” he shouted at Waldrep.
“Dr. Wilson, she can use whatever word she wants,” Terry interjected.
Wilson quickly apologized for the outburst.
Waldrep then asked Wilson if he was biased toward the Liebel based on a comment he posted to social media.
“Follow Jim’s lead all you show folks – WE MUST win this one,” a comment he posted read.
The second witness called by the defence was long-time animal exhibitor Franklin Murray.
Murray said he used to rent his Elephants to various fairs, festivals, and Hindu weddings. He said he now has only one. The court did not establish him as an expert.
When asked what happened to his Elephants, he said: “sold some, some died, left some in zoos.”
“I’d have 10 if I could get my hands on them,” Murray added.
Waldrep asked if he made a $1,000 donation to the Liebel’s GoFundMe page and then if he had ever been arrested.
He admitted to making the donation, but his answer to the second question was less straightforward.
Underwood attempted to intervene by helping to clarify the simple question for Waldrep.
“If you’re asking if I was arrested? Yes, I was arrested,” Murray said.
He claimed the charges were expunged.
Mickey Grimes was called by Underwood as the next witness. He was supposed to give his account of the condition of Liebel’s trailer while it was in Lawrence County, but because of his apparent inability to give clear answers to the questions presented to him, he was told to “go home.”
“I didn’t even want to come down here,” Grimes said to Underwood. “I don’t even know you.”
The final witness called by the defence was Hugo Leibel himself.
Before he was asked the first question, he began attempting to explain to the judge the reason his Elephant was removed.
“I know propaganda, mam,” Hugo said to the judge. “I come from behind the iron curtain and I can tell you stories you wouldn’t believe about propaganda.”
“I am guilty as charged already to these people,” Liebel continued. “I would take her (Nosey) home, love her,” Liebel replied when asked what he would do with Nosey. “You will not catch me in lie for billion dollars.”
“Mr. Liebel, just answer the darn question; you’re your own worst enemy,” Underwood advised his client.
“We beat everything we been charged off and you still haven’t given our Elephant back, your honour,” Hugo Liebel said.
Underwood said in a post-hearing press conference he feels like the case will be lost, however, he plans to appeal and said Lawrence County could face a million-dollar lawsuit for wrongful seizure sometime next year.
“I think we may lose in district court, but we will win in front of 12 Lawrence County jurors,” Underwood said.
He said if he wins, the county could be looking at a large bill.
“You shouldn’t be able to come take a million dollar animal,” Underwood said. “This isn’t a communist country.”
Lawrence County administrator Heather Dyar said the county has yet to receive a bill from the sanctuary and does not anticipate receiving one in the future.
Hugo and Franciska were arrested Saturday morning on two misdemeanour animal cruelty charges related to initial encounter with Carpenter. They paid the bail set at $1,500 each.
The four small horses were returned to the Libels at around 10 a.m. the same morning.
A non-profit organization called Save Nosey Now has been following the case since the beginning, and one of its founders, Denise Gaug, said she flew from her home in South Florida to attend the hearing.
Gaug says the group consists of “advocates rather than activists” from all over the country.
She had with her an article from The Sarasota Herald-Tribune that details how one of the witnesses, Franklin Murray, allowed use of his Elephant for a Trump rally free of charge, and a photo from the rally shows the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” painted on the side of the animal.
In fact, Gaug had compiled a slew of evidence which she and her group believe show mistreatment of Nosey and collusion between Liebel and other people involved in show business to avoid legal repercussions. One piece of evidence she had was a video of Nosey being made to tow a trailer by herself.
At the time of this article’s completion, there has been no word on which way the judge ruled.
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