FRONT ROYAL -- A Warren County couple accused of keeping their children and animals in unhealthy conditions entered plea deals Monday to avoid jail time.
Brian Wayne Tenney, 56, and Wendy Ellen Tenney, 44, both of 63 Limeton Church Road, Front Royal, pleaded guilty in Warren County Circuit Court to one count each of felony child endangerment and misdemeanor animal cruelty. Each defendant stood charged with six counts of felony child endangerment, 16 counts of animal neglect and three counts of inadequate care for an animal.
Staunton attorney Tate C. Love, of the firm Timberlake Smith, represented both defendants. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Anna Hammond prosecuted the cases.
Each defendant entered pleas of guilt under Alford v. North Carolina under agreements reached between Love and Hammond. A defendant who enters an Alford plea maintains his or her innocence but concedes that the prosecutor has sufficient evidence and he or she does not wish to risk being found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a judge or jury.
Warren County sheriff’s deputy Laura Gomez responded on Sept. 12 to a report of a horse in the underpass on Stonewall Jackson Highway, Hammond said in her summary of the evidence she planned to present had the case gone to trial. Gomez, an animal control officer for the agency, did not find a horse, so she turned on to Limeton Church Road and saw several goats in the road, Hammond said. Gomez went to the Tenneys’ property to tell Mr. Tenney of the loose goats, the prosecutor said. Mr. Tenney and his young son were working on a lawnmower when the deputy approached and she heard dogs barking in a shed. Gomez asked Mr. Tenney if she could see the dogs and he agreed to let the deputy see the animals, the prosecutor added.
“During this time, deputy Gomez also observed a cat with an eye condition ... on the property outside the building,” Hammond said. “In order to get into the shed, deputy Gomez had to step on top of and kinda through bags of feces and urine-soaked newspapers.
“There was a smell of ammonia that was detectable outside the building and overwhelming inside,” Hammond went on to say.
The deputy found inside 13 dogs in kennels that had not been cleaned in some time along with more urine-soaked papers and buckets of feces, the prosecutor said. Gomez then told Mr. Tenney she intended to seize the animals and then the deputy called for more officers to respond to the property, Hammond said.
Gomez and other law enforcement officers took “many” cats as well as the dogs from the property, Hammond added.
Officers used respirators to search the house, given the ammonia fumes, Hammond said.
“The conditions in the house were deplorable with clutter and filth everywhere,” the prosecutor said.
Officers found pots filled with water and other food substances laying on the floor, counters and on “basically every available space,” Hammond said.
“The defendants are the parents of six children under the age of 18 who were residing in the home in these conditions,” Hammond added.
The Department of Social Services responded to the scene. The Department of Fire and Rescue Services also responded with meters to measure the level of ammonia fumes, the prosecutor noted. Workers from the county animal shelter came to help remove at least 30 animals from the property.
Judge Clifford L. Athey Jr. asked Brian Tenney if he agreed that Hammond had presented what she intended to present at trial.
“Not that I totally agree with it ...” Brian Tenney said.
Athey accepted both pleas and sentenced each defendant to two years in prison for child endangerment and 12 months in jail for animal cruelty in accordance with the agreements. Athey suspended each term in its entirety, as the parties agreed. The judge ordered each of the defendants to complete five years of unsupervised probation, the terms of which included a restriction that Brian and Wendy Tenney not possess more than one feline and one canine.
Sets of sentencing guidelines prepared for the court - one reflecting all of the Tenneys’ charges and the other the counts to which each pleaded guilty under the agreement -- recommended a punishment of probation with no active time of incarceration, Hammond explained.
Athey granted a motion to dismiss the Tenneys’ remaining charges at the Hammond’s request, as called for in the agreements.