DNA testing leads to conviction in wild horse thefts

RENO - DNA testing helped prosecutors convict a Pershing County rancher for stealing three wild horses off the range in the first such case of its kind in Nevada.

Jersey Valley Ranch owner Jerry Kelly was sentenced last week by a Reno federal judge to a $1,000 fine and three year's probation after pleading no contest to the misdemeanor charges.

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Maxine Shane said it was the first time DNA testing has been used in such a case in Nevada.

''It could be the first time it's been used nationally by the BLM, but I'm not sure. I know it's the first time it's been used here,'' Shane said.

''This is a great tool for law enforcement and something not available to us before.''

Nevada has 24,000 federally protected wild horses and burros, more than half of all such animals in the West.

DNA testing provided a major break in the case by linking three horses Kelly brought to a Fallon auction yard in August 1997 to a wild horse herd in central Nevada.

After the three unbranded animals aroused the suspicions of a state brand inspector, specialists observed similarities between them and horses in the Augusta Mountain herd.

Blood samples from the three horses and 36 animals of the herd were compared. DNA testing established there was a 97 percent probability the three came from the herd, Shane said.

''The information really helped us build a case against him,'' she said.

The three horses were held as evidence until completion of the case. One of the horses died, but a mare was adopted and another mare was to be returned to the range.

The animals are protected under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, and the BLM is charged with managing them.

Kelly, who holds a BLM grazing permit, was indicted by a federal grand jury in March 1999.


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