WILMINGTON — Nearly seven months after one of their horses was found starving and stuck in a mud hole on their farm just north of Greenville Loop Road, the Woody family received the sixth continuance since their first court date last summer as they each face charges of animal cruelty.
It was continued because two of the defendants, Robert Woody, Jr. and his wife Judy Woody, did not have counsel. District Court Judge Sandra Ray appointed a public defender for the two.
However, Judge Ray promised that this would be the last delay after setting a court date for March 12.
“It won’t be continued next time,” Ray told the defendants.
On July 14, 2019, a horse was seen eating grass on the side of Greenville Loop Road, just outside the Woodys’ farm. When an officer from New Hanover County Animal Control arrived and returned it to their property, just north of Hewletts Creek, the emaciated horse was discovered stuck in a mud hole. The horse, named Jordan, died en route to a nearby animal hospital.
Of the thirteen horses found on the farm, seven were ultimately removed by rescue groups due to their malnourished conditions.
The last court date for the Woody trio was on December 11, when the defense attorney for Robert and Judy Woody had “developed a conflict and needs to get out of the case,” according to Samantha Dooies, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office.
The attorney, Addison Palanza, gave a brief comment after withdrawing his representation of the elder Woodys.
“There are no winners in cases like this,” Palanza said at the time. “It’s tragic.”
Their daughter, Sarah Woody, was represented by attorney Caroline McEachern on Thursday. Outside the courtroom on Thursday morning, the three Woodys each declined to comment.
The granted continuance came after some confusion as to why the Woodys were not present during the initial roll call.
“Why are they not in the courtroom?” Judge Ray asked the clerk, who informed her they were sitting just outside the courtroom.
The three were ushered in along with McEachern, but they soon left the courtroom again.
“Where are the Woodys?” Judge Ray again asked, before they were brought in to complete paperwork for Robert and Judy Woody to be represented by a public defender.
Jennifer Witkowski, a horse trainer and advocate in Pender County who has closely followed the initial investigation and ongoing court delays, was also in the courtroom Thursday morning. She later urged the district attorney’s office and the court to resolve the case, and to use it as a precedent for horse abuse in the county.
“Our community is incredibly disappointed that this case has not been able to be given the chance for justice yet, and that the family appears to be taking every opportunity to delay this day in court that is possible. We pray that the DA and judges will see the importance of this case — not only to have justice for Jordan, but also setting precedence for equine abuse and neglect in our county. We will continue to fight for justice for Jordan if it takes another month, or another year,” Witkowski said.
This was the sixth continuance of the case. During the initial August 28 court date, a delay was requested so the defendants could retain counsel. In September the court delayed a hearing again for administrative reasons. And at a November 20 appearance, it was delayed because the court was “awaiting [an] invoice from animal services,” according to Dooies.
Other continuances were granted in October, December, and during Thursday’s hearing.
Witkowski has described Sarah Woody, the daughter, as an “accomplished horsewoman.”
Ms. Woody was formerly employed by Reagan Equine, the animal hospital in Wilmington where the horses were first assessed before they were transported to Horton’s Rehab Ranch in Pender County, according to Witkowski. (Woody listed Reagan Equine on her LinkedIn page but later deleted it or made the page private).
Witkowski believed the Woody family had neglected some horses at the expense of others, noting that Ms. Woody had considerable experience with the animals as a vet student at Cape Fear Community College and through her professional capacity showing horses.
Get caught up
Port City Daily has covered the case since last summer, starting with the New Hanover Sheriff’s Office initially declining to press charges. Get caught up with the developments since then, below:
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com