All of the charges against Larry Wheelon were recently dropped after a Blount County judged ruled the search and seizure of evidence from Wheelon Stables was unlawful.  Wheelon's attorney, Robert White, released the following statement to the Walking Horse Report.

June 2, 2015

Kasi Hensley Via E-Mail
Walking Horse Report

Re: Larry Joe Wheelon

Dear Ms. Hensley:

Thank you for your request for me to clarify a summary of the case of State of Tennessee v. Larry Wheelon.  Much has been printed in the press that is misleading, having been shaped by the agenda of zealous, special interest groups that care more about serving their ultimate goals than relating the truth of what actually happened in the case.

I feel compelled to start from the beginning of the events which occurred with Larry Wheelon being charged with animal cruelty in April of 2013.  The case proceeded in General Sessions Court in which the State went forward with a preliminary hearing, which is a proceeding by which the State has the burden of showing the lesser standard of probable cause, well below finding someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed by the individual accused of committing it in the county where the court presides.  The preliminary hearing went over the course of three days.  During the proceedings on the second day, Julie McMillan, agent with the United States Department of Agriculture and prosecuting witness, testified that she had never threatened or admonished anyone regarding the issue of obstruction of justice, including potential witnesses in this case.  After being asked this in several variations she adamantly denied that she had ever engaged in any such tactics.  Because of the wonderful investigative work of Kenneth Myers, a private investigator that had been working with me from almost the beginning on this case, I had retrieved voicemails she had left with a potential witness referencing obstruction of justice and warning how speaking to myself or others associated with Larry Wheelon’s defense might be considered obstruction of justice.  A recess was taken in the proceedings so that the assistant district attorney at the time prosecuting the case could have the opportunity to hear the voicemail recordings and be aware of the difficulties that Ms. McMillan was going to have trying to explain why she had been less than forthright under oath in her testimony.  The assistant district attorney upon hearing the voicemails related to me that she did not see how she could proceed forward with this case given the previous testimony she had heard and how it contradicted the voicemails that I was prepared to play in open court.  She asked me if we could adjourn for the day and come back the next day when she was going to dismiss the charges against Larry Wheelon.  I wanted to make sure that she was sincere in her desire so I informed her I had various witnesses that had traveled great distances at their own cost willing to testify at the preliminary hearing.  I confirmed that I could send those witnesses home because she had plans to simply dismiss the case.  Based on the representation of the assistant district attorney I told my witnesses that there was no need for them to return the next day.  The next morning I was contacted by the assistant district attorney who advised me “I have been told to move forward with the case”.  This was a blatant misrepresentation from what had been related to me the previous day as I had sent my witnesses home based on her promise.  Nonetheless, I chose to go forward with the preliminary hearing.

The State proceeded forward with their proof and the General Sessions Judge found that the State had not proven its case for probable cause.  It has been very misleading with reports that I am sure were put forth by the USDA, the Blount County SPCA and local media outlets who have repeatedly asserted that the preliminary hearing was dismissed based on a technicality.  A State’s witnesses, Bart Sutherland, a veterinarian working for the USDA, was excluded from being allowed to testify based on him violating the rule against the separate reception of evidence when he entered to courtroom while other testimony was occurring.  However, this was not the reason the charges were dismissed.  Even if Dr. Sutherland had testified I am confident the same result would have occurred at the preliminary hearing.  Judge Headrick dismissed the preliminary hearing making specific findings that the State had failed to establish probable cause that Larry Wheelon had committed the offenses he was accused of committing and went out of his way to find that the testimony of Julie McMillan had been discredited and did not find her to be a credible witness.  It was based on this that the preliminary hearing was dismissed.

After the case was dismissed at the preliminary hearing it was generally thought, based on the credibility issues of Julie McMillan and the lack of proof to proceed forward, the case would not be presented to a Blount County Grand Jury.  (It should be noted that jeopardy does not attach when a preliminary hearing is dismissed because the defendant is not acquitted like when the State fails to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but the charges are simply dismissed for lack of probable cause and the case can be pursued at a later date on a dismissal of a preliminary hearing).  However, the Blount County District Attorney succumbed to special interest groups and decided to continue to toy with the life of a man who had devoted approximately 50 years to his profession of training Tennessee Walking Horses.  Petitions were sent by individuals involved in special interest groups asking the District Attorney to present the case to a grand jury for indictment and the District Attorney pursued a political prosecution against an individual with no criminal history.  (Grand jury proceedings are where only the State is present and presents proof before 12 citizens to determine if there is probable cause for a defendant to be indicted and charged with criminal offenses whereby he would proceed to trial).

It is curious to note that the State’s prosecuting witness for Larry Wheelon, Stacy Gunter, Brandon Lunsford and Blake Primm before the grand jury was Kellie Bachman who is associated with the Blount County SPCA and not Agent McMillan.  To the best of my knowledge Kellie Bachman only had second-hand information about the accusations related to the above-named defendants.

The case proceeded to Circuit Court where it could ultimately end in a jury trial.  However, oftentimes in cases pretrial motions are filed to decide what evidence may be presented or would be excluded based on various reasons.  I filed a Motion to Suppress the fruits of the search based on a search warrant that was acquired by Agent McMillan to search Larry Wheelon’s barn.  I felt as though there were several violations of Larry Wheelon’s constitutional rights, more particularly, his Fourth Amendment right against unlawful searches and seizures.  Much of the information that was used to support probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant was obtained through illegal searches.  Gino Bachman, of the Blount County SPCA, simply went in Larry Wheelon’s barn while no one was around, with no permission and took photographs of horses in stalls.  This in and of itself could constitute the crime of criminal trespass.  Agent McMillan used similar tactics on occasions.  Also important to note, Agent McMillan in applying for her search warrant filled out a Sworn Affidavit and presented it to the issuing judge for the Search Warrant and was deceptive in not disclosing that Gino Bachman or the Blount County SPCA were involved in the investigation along with her.  She referred to Gino Bachman simply as a retired law enforcement agent.  This is an important distinction because if a private citizen, such as a retired police officer, enters into someone’s home or barn no constitutional protection is provided to the property owner.  Only if an agent of the State unlawfully enters is his constitutional protection invoked.  Therefore, when Agent McMillan presented her Affidavit in Support of the Search Warrant to the issuing judge this would have been an important consideration for the judge to ponder whether he would issue the Search Warrant.  This was deceptive on her part.  There were other deceptive tactics in the Affidavit in Support of the Search Warrant by Agent McMillan as were found by the Circuit Court Judge in considering the Motion to Suppress.

The case proceeded to hearing of a Motion to Suppress which concluded on May 15, 2015 in which a second judge, Blount County Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington, found that there were credibility issues with the search warrant process and the testimony of Agent McMillan.  It was based on a violation of Larry Wheelon’s constitutional rights that the Motion to Suppress was granted.  The practical result is that when a Motion to Suppress is granted, the evidence that was obtained as a result of the search warrant cannot be used in the case by the State.  Therefore, there was no evidence that the State would be allowed to present against Larry Wheelon and they had no choice but to dismiss the case.

I want to be loud and clear on a particular point.  When defending someone accused of a crime you use every lawful tactic within your power to try to have the government’s case dismissed or weakened.  Even if the Motion to Suppress had not been granted in this case and it had proceeded to trial with the so-called evidence that the State was alleging they had obtained, I am confident that a jury of Larry Wheelon’s peers would have found him not guilty.  I am disappointed in recent press publications in which it has been portrayed again as if the State has lost on a technicality.  Very little if any focus has been placed on the unlawful and deceptive practices of certain individuals in the prosecution of the case.  Larry Wheelon is not a criminal and had we been forced to go to trial a jury of his peers would have found he had violated no criminal statute.  Based on my involvement in this case it certainly makes you question who the true criminals are.  One thing is for certain, they were not Mr. Wheelon or his co-defendants all of whose cases have now been dismissed.

I would like to thank all that were associated with assisting me in this matter, including my patient wife and children, Kenny Myers, my longtime and loyal trusted private investigator, Dr. John Bennett, “Sister” Milligan and numerous horse owners and individuals in the industry who have lent their supported both morally and financially.  I am certainly glad justice prevailed and I could be part of it.