MADISON COUNTY, Ind. (Jan. 26, 2014) – A Madison County have pleaded guilty to 4 counts of improper disposal of a dead animal after facing more than 100 charges related to dead and dying farm animals.
Daniel and Carrie Ault appeared in court at 1:30 p.m. Monday. They each were facing 96 charges of improper disposal of a dead animal, and 15 counts of animal cruelty. They were also facing two counts of neglect of a dependent child.
Four counts of improper disposal is the maximum for sentencing. The animal cruelty charges were dismissed, along with two counts of neglect of a dependent.
“The maximum the law allows in the this case is 4 years. So, whether they plead to 400 counts or 2 counts, or 3 counts or 4 counts, the criminal exposure is the same,” said Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings.
The charges stem from a case that was called “unprecedented” by several members of Madison County Law Enforcement. Investigators responded to calls from neighbors on April 9, 2013 about a foul smell around the Aults’ farm near Summitville. After arriving on the property, investigators found dozens of horses, goats, sheep, geese, cows and chickens were found inside the barn. Sources said the surviving animals were just “skin and bones.”
Several law enforcement members said the conditions in and around the barn were “disturbing” and “horrible.” Some of the animals were so decomposed, officials couldn’t tell what they were at first. Health officials and investigators spend days wearing HazMat suits as they gathered evidence and disposed of animal carcasses.
Cleanup and disposal cost Madison County about $30,000.
Investigators also said the Aults were living in a barn with their two children. The Madison County Board of Health condemned the barn, which had no running water. Investigators also found a five-gallon bucket of human waste, animal carcasses and animal feces. All four family members shared the same bed, according to court documents.
The two counts of neglect of a dependent child were among the charges dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Defense attorney Bryan Williams says he was able to argue that the Aults’ children did not actually live in the barn.
“The counts that concerned me the most were the neglect of a dependent charges concerning their children,” Williams said. “They disputed those charges and those charges are being dismissed. That was our primary concern.”
Investigators found a total of 171 dead animals on the farm, according to the probable cause affidavit. Authorities also found 165 surviving animals. Of 17 surviving animals taken for analysis, only two were found to be within normal range.
The dead animals were piled up, with investigators describing the scene as “bodies stacked upon bodies.”
Many of the surviving animals were eventually moved to new homes for proper care.
FOX59 spoke to Daniel Ault shortly after the story broke in April 2013. At that time, he said the animals died during the winter and he was unable to keep up with their care. He also said he lacked the proper equipment to move the dead animals. Ault said he hadn’t had the chance to dispose of the animals before authorities showed up at his farm.
In court Monday, the judge ordered a pre-sentencing investigation and scheduled the sentencing hearing for Friday, February 13. The court will also determine any restitution owed by the Aults.
Williams said he and his clients will dispute the $30,000 clean up and disposal costs outlined by Madison County.