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Charges possible after 100 cattle found dead

BISMARCK -- Prosecutors are considering criminal charges against the owner of 100 cattle found dead last week in McIntosh County, at least some of which starved to death.

Logan County State's Attorney Gerald Kuhn said Tuesday it is too early in the investigation to say whether criminal charges will be filed, but autopsies on three of the animals showed they died from starvation.

Kuhn said there are more cattle in the owner's possession, many in poor shape and others in good condition.

"We're concerned with the cattle right now -- making sure they're getting what they need" in terms of appropriate nutrition, Kuhn said. "We're not so concerned with whether we're going to prosecute."

He said a check by the McIntosh County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday showed there were bales of hay and water available to the cattle, but it appeared the hay didn't support the animals' nutritional needs.

Susan Keller, the state veterinarian, said Tuesday that her office began working with the county's sheriff's department March 11 on an investigation prompted by an anonymous tipster. She said multiple species were involved.

The investigation comes in the wake of the pending case against Bill Kiefer, a Fargo investment executive and financial adviser who faces charges in Morton County District Court that are connected to the death of 96 horses, donkeys and mules found on his land, along with the seizure of another 119 malnourished animals. He faces similar misdemeanor charges in Burleigh County, where 38 of Kiefer's horses were also seized and three discovered dead.

"For us to be dealing with two back-to-back cases, it's ironic, especially given that it's in this legislative session, with the bill" prohibiting animal cruelty now under consideration by the Legislature, Keller said.

The bill would make animal cruelty a felony in the state.

In the case in McIntosh County -- a sparsely populated county southwest of Jamestown on the South Dakota border -- Kuhn said an insurance claim was filed by the owner and the insurance company investigated the claim.

"In my opinion, if the owner had starved them to death, the insurance company would have said something," he said.

Kuhn said initial reports indicated that dogs had chased the cows into a barn on the property, where they suffocated and died.

"I need more than what I've got" to make a decision about prosecuting, Kuhn said. "Certainly, we have to have more than three autopsies."

The state's attorney for McIntosh County, Terry Elhard, said he passed on the case to Logan County prosecutors because he has a conflict of interest. Elhard would not elaborate on his conflict, other than to say he had some relationship with the animals' owner.