Nearly two years after police raided a West Pike Run Township farm to shut down a cockfighting operation, the property owner pleaded no contest to one felony count of owning or possessing a bird for fighting and a related misdemeanor just moments before jurors were to be selected to hear his case.
Thomas MacFann, 76, facing 93 charges, apparently decided against taking a chance with a jury trial and opted for changing the “not guilty” plea he maintained since his arrest in August 2012.
MacFann also pleaded guilty to possessing instruments of a crime, which were knives and gaffs, a kind of metal spur.
Judge John DiSalle sentenced MacFann to two years’ probation. Records show MacFann is being assessed $2,243 in court costs not directly related to the upkeep of the birds.
The Washington County district attorney’s office wanted MacFann to forfeit both the flock of nearly eight-dozen fowl, out of 127, and his farm, which prosecutors claim was used for either cockfighting or breeding fighting roosters.
“The commonwealth withdrew or discontinued the forfeiture petition against the farm today,” Assistant District Attorney Joseph Zupancic said Monday.
MacFann’s attorney, Martin A. Deitz, the judge and Zupancic agreed MacFann would forfeit all fowl seized in the 2012 raid, but he could keep his farm.
Taxpayers are not on the hook for the upkeep of the chickens while the case was waiting for trial or plea.
“The chickens were being taken care of by the Humane Society of the United States,” said Zupancic, who steadfastly refused to divulge the birds’ location.
He would say only at the courthouse that the roost is “within a three-hour drive from here.”
What now happens to the birds will be up to the Humane Society.
The probation offer was on the table for MacFann for months, but who would shoulder the cost of the birds’ upkeep was a sticking point.
“For a while, the Humane Society of the U.S. was going to try to recoup their cost in keeping the 92 chickens,” Zupancic said. “I think they thought dropping the cost (issue) would resolve the matter, which it did.”
DiSalle agreed to dismiss an additional 91 counts of owning or possessing an animal for fighting, one for each rooster.
Prosecutors alleged some of the birds’ combs and wattles were removed, and some of the roosters had natural projections between their leg feathers and feet cut back or removed so they could be fitted with the sharp implements.
Dietz claimed in court documents in the forfeiture case his client’s chickens and farm were illegally seized. He also denied breeding chickens were producing birds for fighting. “Mr. MacFann was not engaged in any illegal activity at the time of the search,” Dietz wrote, and contended any trophies at the farm were more than seven years old.