In a last-ditch attempt to get back the horses that he loved dearly, Derrick Hamm, 49, appealed his previous conviction for animal cruelty at a hearing on Monday.
"Miracles do happen," Hamm said before the appeal hearing on his summary conviction from June. "I bet they ain't ever seen nobody want horses this bad."
Hamm was convicted on three counts of animal cruelty in June for keeping horses in a muddy, debris-strewn lot on Grays Avenue in Southwest Philly, but appealed the verdict mainly to get his horses back -- which were confiscated by the Pennsylvania SPCA.
PSCPA humane enforcement officers said that in March they found Hamm's horses, Monster Man, a chestnut gelding, Truth, a pony and Justice, a cremello stallion horse, living hoof-deep in a mix of manure and urine.
They also said the animals did not have access to sufficient water, had chewed off the bark of nearby trees due to hunger, and their hooves were overgrown, causing the animals pain.
These issues cause the animals serious pain, said Lezlie Hiner executive director of the Chamounix Equestrian Center in Fairmount Park.
"The feet are the most important thing on a horse. If those are not taken care of properly, the horses are not going to be healthy," she said. "If they're chewing the bark of the tree, they're probably really skinny."
At the hearing, Hamm briefly tried to change his plea to keep up the fight to regain his horses.
"You shouldn't go around being cruel to animals," Judge Barbara McDermott told Hamm, whose lawyer had received an offer from prosecutors to have his restitution fees reduced from $4,500 to $1,750 if he agreed to plead guilty.
"Now, do you want a trial today or do you want to enter a plea?"
"Yes, I'll take the trial," Hamm said, as the attorneys who worked out the agreement recoiled in shock.
However, after a conference with his lawyer John Raimondi, Hamm returned and pleaded guilty.
"He is a good person, but unfortunately, the animals were not in the condition they should have been. The SPCA was justified in taking the animals," Raimondi said.
Hamm continues to deny any intentional cruelty, but said he won't attempt any further appeal, and that he may seek volunteer opportunities at horse farms to keep spending time with animals.
"I'm a recovering addict -- I need the horses for therapy for my bipolar and my schizophrenia," he said. "Would I tattoo these horses all over my body if I wanted to be cruel to them?"
City of horses
Urban equestrianism is a thriving subculture in Philadelphia, but one often shrouded in secrecy. The law requires the horses be kept in better conditions than many riders can afford, experts say.
Full-care stables can cost $5,500 a year, and self-care stables cost $150 a month at the Chamounix Equestrian Center in Fairmount Park, said executive director Lezlie Hiner.
"It's a source of pride for many people," Hiner said of the urban cowboys of Philadelphia. "There are some guys and women that have their own little facilities in the city and they do take care of their horses, but there are just as many that do not. And that's a very big problem from what I've seen."
The Philadelphia city charter doesn't prohibit horse ownership by citizens, and in the Pennsylvania area, horses can be found cheap -- even as low as $1 on Craigslist.
"Often someone who wants to own a horse, they take it to a stable and have fun with it for a few months, and then they abandon it. That happens all the time," Hiner said.