delgazette.com

Accused murderer describes shooting as accidental

April 23, 2012

ANN SANNER

Associated Press

REYNOLDSBURG — An administrative hearing has been delayed for a week over Ohio’s quarantine order for five animals kept at a zoo since their owner released dozens of wild creatures from his farm before he committed suicide in October.

A state-appointed lawyer was set to hear arguments Monday about whether the state had the authority to quarantine the surviving animals. After more than an hour-and-a-half delay to the start of the morning hearing, attorneys announced testimony would start on April 30.

A spokeswoman for Ohio’s agriculture department said the hearing was pushed back at the request of Marian Thompson, the suicidal owner’s widow, who had demanded the appeal hearing. An attorney for the widow declined to comment.

The Columbus zoo has been caring for three leopards, two primates and a bear under state-issued quarantine orders. One leopard was euthanized after being struck by a door lowering between two enclosures.

The animals are those that survived the release by owner Terry Thompson, who lived just outside Zanesville in eastern Ohio. Authorities were forced to kill 48 of 56 others, including Bengal tigers, lions and bears, as they moved into the community.

Marian Thompson appeared at Monday’s hearing, but declined to speak to reporters. She had sought to reclaim the surviving animals in late October, but the Ohio Department of Agriculture ordered that they be kept in quarantine. Ohio law allows the state veterinarian to quarantine animals while investigating reports of potentially dangerous diseases.

Officials said they were concerned about reports that the animals lived in unsanitary conditions where they could be exposed to disease. The order prevents the zoo from releasing the animals until it’s clear they’re free of dangerous diseases.

Andrew Cooke, the state-appointed attorney overseeing the appeal hearing, also declined to offer further details for the hearing’s delay.

As hearing officer, he has between 30 and 45 days to render a report after the proceedings about the quarantine order. Any final decision would be made by the state’s agriculture director, and Marian Thompson could also appeal that decision.

The surviving animals were medically tested in March, but state officials have yet to receive the results.

Officials initially were worried about whether the animals were strong enough to survive being anesthetized for testing, but the state veterinarian determined last month that they were.

The wildlife underwent physical exams, X-rays and blood testing. Marian Thompson’s veterinarian also sent a veterinary technician to be present during the testing and to collect the split samples from the animals.