Couple pleads not guilty

Trial date set for February in animal cruelty case

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor

A married couple facing felony animal cruelty charges in Hettinger County pleaded not guilty last week, waiving their right to a preliminary hearing.

William Ziegler, 74, and Mary Ziegler, 71, both waived their preliminary hearing that was originally scheduled to take place Dec. 1 at Southwest Judicial District Court in Mott. They both face one count of animal cruelty, a Class C felony, and one count of animal neglect, a Class A misdemeanor.

The case will now head to a jury trial.

The defendants, who were identified in court documents as residents of Missouri but reside on a property in Hettinger County owned by relatives, face a possible five years imprisonment and up to $5,000 in fines if convicted of the felony charge. They could also face up to one-year imprisonment and a maximum fine of $3,000 if they are convicted of the misdemeanor.

The charges stemmed from an Oct. 31 incident when law enforcement was called to the area near the Zieglers’ property on reports of animals on the loose. When authorities arrived they were led to a location on the property where they discovered more than 50 dogs. According to court documents, the environment was filthy, covered in feces and urine.

Hettinger County State’s Attorney Aaron Roseland said it was unclear why the Zieglers were in possession of so many animals.

The defendants were not present when the initial search warrant was being served, but returned later and were arrested at the scene.

The two later posted bond — set by the court at $1,500 for each — and were released from custody.

Court documents filed this week indicated a pretrial conference has been set for Jan. 24, 2017 in Dickinson and a felony jury trial to begin Feb. 8, 2017 in Mott with Rhonda R. Ehlis presiding.

The Zieglers have retained Thomas Murtha of Dickinson as their counsel, according to court records.

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