By Joe Beck
WINCHESTER -- The bench trial of a Stephenson kennel owner ended abruptly Friday morning with Russell Ebersole convicted on four counts of animal cruelty and the prosecution agreeing to drop seven other animal cruelty counts against him at a later date.
The plea agreement between Ebersole's attorney, Roger Inger, and Assistant Frederick County Commonwealth's Attorney Andrew M. Robbins came after a day of testimony Thursday in which a parade of witnesses painted a damning picture of Ebersole's techniques for training dogs at his Aberdeen Acres Pet Care Center.
Circuit Judge Clifford L. "Clay" Athey Jr. accepted the plea agreement after Inger and Robbins labored to explain Ebersole was still pleading not guilty to all charges against him.
But, Inger said, his client was agreeing that the prosecution had gathered enough evidence to win convictions on four counts.
"We just quit, essentially," Inger told Athey.
Robbins said the agreement was "most similar to an Alford plea" under which a defendant admits he cannot win an acquittal while still insisting he is not guilty.
Athey set a sentencing hearing for 11 a.m. Dec. 6. On Thursday, Athey struck two of the animal cruelty counts against Ebersole, leaving a total of 11 for the plea agreement submitted Friday.
Cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence on each count of 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Robbins refused to comment on what kind of penalty he will seek inside the sentencing range. The plea agreement contained no provisions related to sentencing, he said.
He also refused to comment on the specific reasons for the plea agreement.
"Plea agreements are always possible, and we try to keep an open mind if it is in the best interest of Frederick County," Robbins said.
Inger and Ebersole had little to say about the case as they left the courtroom.
When asked if media attention and word of mouth about the case had hurt his kennel business, Ebersole replied, "All will be well."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org