Mistrial in aging elephant case

Jurors deliberated for five hours Tuesday evening following an elephant custodianship trial that began eight years ago when owner, Carol Buckley, was let go from her position as CEO at The Elephant Sanctuary (TES).

“You’re always disappointed with a mistrial because you have to do it over,” Buckley’s attorney, Ed Yarbrough, said in a telephone interview this week.  But, we are ready to do it again.” 

Twelve jurors sat through two days of testimony, receiving a fast track education in the care of pachyderms.  According to one juror, who wished to remain anonymous, three questions were meticulously considered.

c.Tarra Lake 5.3.18 (7)

Tarra at Lee’s Lake in Hohenwald, Tennessee on grounds of The Elephant Sanctuary.

One, whether or not Carol had irrevocably given possession of Tarra the elephant to TES.  With a unanimous decision required by Lewis County Chancery Court, the jury was stuck at 10 to two.  Ten said no, hung up on the word “irrevocable,” a juror said in an interview.

A majority of the jury believed Buckley had transferred right of possession, but not a title of ownership.

Question two dealt with whether TES had a clear policy in place to prevent an owner from removing an elephant.  Eleven jurors believed a clear policy was in place to regulate the retrieval of elephants by their owners.  One juror did not believe the policy was clear.

When asked about the policy, the following statement was received by the Herald, “The Elephant Sanctuary provides a permanent home and lifetime care for elephants. Should there be a situation where The Sanctuary can no longer provide home and care, a move to another facility would require the approval of the Board, the Executive Director and The Sanctuary’s Attending Veterinarian.”

“It was an extremely complicated case,” our source commented.   

Question three referenced the policy of question two.  Requested of the jury was to determine whether or not Carol Buckley had the right to remove Tarra from Sanctuary grounds.  “One believed the policy in place applied to Buckley, and 11 thought this policy did not apply,” the juror continued.  

When the jury was unable to agree on a verdict, the Honorable Judge Deanna Johnson offered them an opportunity to sleep on the case and discuss it further Wednesday morning.  

“We all agreed we had walked down every avenue and could not reach an unanimous vote,” the anonymous juror reported.

Attorney Robert Boston represented TES, assisted by Attorney Mark Bell.

“I cannot comment on the matter,” Bell stated for Boston, who could not be reached for comment.

“We remain fully committed and exist to provide home, herd and individualized lifetime care to all residents of The Sanctuary, as we have done for the past 23 years,” CEO Janice Zeitlin stated in  an emailed comment. “The Sanctuary has always been a forever home for its elephant residents and those yet to come.”

“It was encouraging to see that 10 of the 12 jurors knew I still had ownership,” Carol Buckley said during a telephone interview Tuesday.  “We will go back to trial.

“It’s simple,” she continued.    “The only reason, I need the courts to affirm I am the owner of Tarra is so I have the authority to oversee her care,” Buckley said.

“It’s a fairly simple request on her part, but seems difficult to the other folks,” Yarbrough added.

“Its been disappointing that something so simple, so logical and so right has to go to court.  And to put it in front of a jury who has no expertise in  exotic animal care and to have them make a decision,” Buckley continued.

Tarra is 44 years old.  Buckley reported the elephant suffers from osteoarthritis, a condition she wishes to treat or oversee treatment of, personally.  Buckley is developing a new facility in south Georgia to which Tarra could be moved, if necessary.  She has been denied access to Tarra since she left TES with the exception of one brief visit.

Buckley reports she has spent $175,000 on the case so far, and will continue to fight.

“Tarra was retired when she was 21 years old.  This is the elephant that opened our eyes.  This is about Tarra’s rights.”

“The reality is the Sanctuary created this huge wave of awareness and change.  Tarra is the reason all of this happened.”


c.Tarra 7.3.18

Tarra at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.

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