A district judge sentenced an Otoe County farmer to prison Tuesday saying he had expected an evaluation to reveal that some kind of mental disorder was behind the discovery of hundreds of pig carcasses piled up and left to rot, but the investigation offered no better explanation than the farmer got lazy.
Judge Randall Rehmeier had earlier delayed sentencing for John Maahs, 61, asking the state Department of Corrections for a mental evaluation. Prior to sentencing Tuesday, the judge continued to search for an explanation.
Otoe County sheriff's deputies found hundreds of pig carcasses gathered into piles in several buildings. The Nebraska Humane Society was called and rescue 83 pigs, 56 goats and one lamb.
County officials described the scene as horrific. An estimated 500 animals were found stacked into buildings and an additional 300 were found in various stages of decay in the vicinity.
"They were found in paper bags, in buckets and in piles. All over the place there were carcasses of goats or pigs," said Otoe County Commissioner Steve Lade, who was asked to pay for the clean-up. Maahs later paid $56,000 to reimburse the county for clean-up costs.
"Those of us who grew up on a farm know that sometimes animals die, but this was something that was beyond ordinary. This is a situation that is hard to explain," Judge Rehmeier said.
He said Maahs has worked with animals all of his life and said theft charges on his record appear linked to his attempts to get more animals.
"We have someone who is willing to go and take animals, to steal animals. Someone who has a degree in animal science and has a life around animals, but once he has the animals this situation takes place," he said.
The cause of death for the livestock was starvation and dehydration. The judge said one pile of carcasses was described as four feet high and 20 feet wide.
Judge Rehmeier said the evaluation indicated no mental health issue to explain what happened, other than that Maahs does not socialize. He said Maahs may have felt that he had no friends and did not expect anyone to help him when he was overwhelmed by the care of the livestock.
"He doesn't call anyone. He doesn't seek assistance, so he becomes detached from taking care of the animals. Mr. Maah's suggests that 'he got lazy and didn't take care of things at home," the judge said.
Maahs was sentenced to 20 months to four years in prison with credit for 94 days served. He is eligible for parole in 10 months.
Deputy Otoe County Attorney Tim Noerrlinger had asked the judge for the maximum sentence for Maahs.
He called Maah's actions egregious and said a Humane Society responder described it as the worst case of animal neglect and cruelty they had seen in 15 years of practice.
Page 2 of 2 - He said Maahs may have a personality disorder, but there was no mental health explanation.
"It was kind of a willful act to neglect these animals for a period of time," he said.