Following an extraordinary courtroom display filled with sharp verbal jabs among attorneys and the judge, a Sauk County landlord convicted of mistreating his tenant’s horse was taken into custody Thursday.
Jerry A. Leister, 68, of Middleton, actually was sentenced twice on the same conviction during the course of the two-hour hearing. That’s because in a rare move, he exercised his right to reject the judge’s initial sentence of probation, forcing her to reconsider.
Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Barrett then took a break, returned to the courtroom, and sentenced Leister again, this time to five months in jail with work-release privileges. He also must pay restitution.
That may not be the end of a saga that began in 2017 with felony charges that Leister brutalized his tenant’s horse and hid her dog’s corpse. Leister’s newly hired attorney, William Ginsberg of Madison, said his client intends to appeal the conviction on one misdemeanor count of animal mistreatment.
Leister represented himself last month during a two-day jury trial at which he was found guilty of mistreating the horse, but acquitted of the same charge involving the dog. He hired Ginsberg after the trial to assist with sentencing.
In arguing for the maximum jail time Thursday, Sauk County Assistant District Attorney Dennis Ryan accused Leister of dragging out the case and representing himself at trial in a way that was “overtly hostile, arrogant and confrontational.” He said Leister has a 30-year-history of minor brushes with the law that would “fill a drawer” in the prosecutor’s office.
Leister was sentenced to 10 days in jail in a 2008 case in which he was accused of punching a female tenant, throwing her against a car and then punching and choking her boyfriend.
“On a scale of one to ten, Mr. Leister’s remorse is a negative number that vanishes into infinity,” Ryan said Thursday. “That’s how far removed it is. … There are no remedies to take away the hate and contempt that just seems to boil out of this man.”
Ginsberg accused Ryan of overkill, and said he had never seen a prosecutor take such an aggressive stance on a one-count misdemeanor conviction.
He said the case was based on flimsy evidence, consisting only of the fact that Leister was in his tenant’s barn with a skid loader 24 hours before the injury to the horse was discovered.
“Nobody’s even suggested how the injuries happened,” Ginsberg said, adding that Leister is a hardworking, productive member of society who operates and leases multiple farms. “We just don’t know.”
Investigators said the horse had a large laceration on its face with a bone sticking out of the wound. They also said the incident took place just three days after a dispute between Leister and the tenant in which he allegedly showed up at her place shouting and pointing his finger at her.
Ginsberg objected to a statement Ryan made Thursday in which he said prosecutors were forced to refile the charge as a misdemeanor only because of a technicality, and that the crime really consisted of “felony facts.”
Ginsberg said it would be unlawful for Barrett to sentence his client based on crimes for which he was not charged or convicted.
Barrett said that was just Ginsberg’s opinion, adding that it would not be unlawful for her to accept the state’s sentencing recommendation. That led to a brief debate over semantics between Ginsberg and Barrett, one of several such bouts that occurred during Thursday’s hearing.
Ginsberg requested a delay in the commencement of Leister’s sentence to allow time for the filing of an appeal. Barrett granted the request, allowing the sentence begin in April, but ordered an additional $500 cash bond to ensure Leister’s future appearance.
That meant Leister would have to be taken into custody until he could post the cash, which prompted further objection from Ginsberg.
Leister also has been accused in a separate case of violating a harassment restraining order the tenant had placed on him. That matter is still pending.
During a restitution hearing that also took place Thursday, the former tenant said she surrendered the horse because of its complex medical needs and has missed work due to the matter.
“I’ve actually missed so many days at work that my job was in jeopardy dealing with all of this,” she said.