EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated Feb. 8, 2018, to include comments from Jeffrey Wintner, attorney from the Office of the Public Defender, Gloucester County.
New Jersey horse trainer and photographer Monica Thors has been sentenced to probation for the abuse of Standardbreds under her care.
The case came to a close Monday, Feb. 5 in Gloucester County, N.J.. when a judge sentenced Thors to 1 year of probation through a pre-trial intervention (PTI) program. The program aims to provide intervention and a second chance to potentially deter future criminal behavior. Since Thors is a first-time offender who was indicted with non-violent crime, she qualified for this probation option.
“The state objected to PTI,” according to the Gloucester County District Attorney’s Office. “However, the judge in this case overruled the state. The state then asked for 2 years of probation, and again was overruled by the judge for 1 year.”
If Thors is charged with a second offense of any kind, she would violate the terms of probation and the original animal cruelty charges could be reinstated. However, if Thors follows her probation, the original charges will be dropped and her record will be clean.
In line with the terms of her probation, Thors can work with horses as long as she is supervised.
Bernie Weisenfeld, public information officer for the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, declined further comment, citing a brief statement he submitted about the outcome of the case to the state prosecutor. He prefers waiting to hear back before making any comments.
Jeffrey Wintner, an attorney from the office of Thors' public defender, believes Thors was wrongly accused of committing animal cruelty.
"It is clear to me and, I think, to the judge, that Ms. Thor really did love these animals. In one hearing, an SPCA officer said Thors' barn is just about the cleanest she has ever seen," says Wintner.
The New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was not available for comment.
In open court during legal proceedings, Thors wrote a letter to the court in which she stated that she felt no remorse for the death of her horses
The long journey started December 2014, when accounts of her abuse sent shock waves through the horse community.
Thors was “rehabilitating these overweight and foundered horses, using nippers and power tools to remove large portions of hoof until some of the animals were completely crippled,” Kristen Kovatch of Horse Nation reported.
The story resonated with the public when local news stations shared a screenshot in Thors’ barn of horses in slings with legs heavily bandaged and unable to stand up.
The NJSPCA apparently had been building a case against Thors for more than a year; however, the horses were not removed from Thors’ care. Charges were not filed until news media reported about the case. Seven horses and a goat were seized from Thors on Dec. 2, 2014. Two horses had to be euthanized within 24 hours because of the extent of their injuries.
According to a Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office news release, Thors was indicted in June 2015 on nine counts of animal cruelty due to the alleged mistreatment of horses and a goat in 2013 and 2014.
The indictment contains four counts of third-degree animal cruelty that resulted in the death of four horses, “specifically, by failing to provide the necessary care as directed by veterinarians to address several health issues. The five remaining counts are fourth-degree charges that accuse Thors of causing serious bodily injury, also by failure to provide care, to four horses and a goat.”
Thors pled not guilty in October 2015.
According to Harnesslink, hearings on several motions were scheduled for Dec. 2, 2015, but according to court documents, Thors was ill and asked to have them adjourned.
On Dec. 18 of the same year, a request by Thors to visit her animals on Christmas was denied; however, no decisions were made on the other motions. The hearings were rescheduled for Dec. 21, but Thors later was told the motions would be “decided on the papers” rather than including oral arguments.
Thors filed a federal lawsuit on Jan. 5, 2016, asking that oral arguments be granted. She also requested that all motions in the state court be stayed until the federal court issued a ruling.
Thors filed a lawsuit against the NJSPCA and several individuals soon after her animals were removed. She claimed that the “pre-planned” seizure of her animals was illegal and she had been the victim of a conspiracy. She said health records proved that her horses and goat were not abused.
She also accused the NJSPCA and certain individuals of intentionally starving and making her horses more sick. She claimed that even more would have died if it weren’t for a March court order preventing euthanasia of the animals without counsel from a veterinarian of Thors’ choosing.
The second lawsuit involved her eviction from the farm where she kept the horses. According to documents submitted to the court, Thors entered into an agreement with a couple that owns the farm. According to the agreement, Thors paid for the construction of a modular barn and other improvements. Instead of paying monthly stall rent, she received credit based on the cost of construction. Thors claimed the agreement was for 99 years, although a copy submitted to the courts did not have a term listed.
Richard and Grace Allen, owners of the farm, had been trying to evict Thors, who claimed that the agreement did not allow the Allens to evict her for any reason. The agreement also said no lawsuits could be filed for any reason. Thors filed suit against the Allens in 2013.
Despite the contract, the court ordered Thors to vacate the premises.
Thors later filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Bankruptcy filings typically come with automatic stays on proceedings such as evictions. The state Superior Court later vacated the order so Thors could have more time to seek further review.
In a complaint, Thors claimed that the Allens violated the automatic stay in bankruptcy proceedings by refusing to accept her track rent payments, then seeking to lift the stay for non-payment of rent. Thors accused the Allens of causing her emotional distress, which contributed to her recent illness and led to hospitalization. Thors was seeking monetary damages for “willful misconduct causing emotional distress.”
Thors withdrew the federal lawsuit she filed against the NJSPCA, Lillian Shupe reported Feb. 1, 2016, for NJ.com. Reasons for her withdrawal were not provided.