We have a real television star coming to town this week and I'm not talking about Harrison Ford, the movie hero who'll be at Engel Stadium filming the baseball movie about Jacky Robinson, "42." No, I'm talking about a real dandy -- Jackie "The Jerk" McConnell -- who paralyzed the nation just last Wednesday when a sickening video showed him repeatedly striking a beautiful walking horse in the head.
I refused to watch the nauseating video at first because I believe the fires of hell cannot be hot enough for anyone who abuses a defenseless animal, a child or another human being. But Jackie The Jerk's case is especially intriguing because the lout from Collierville was already expected to plead guilty to the first of 47 counts of violating the Horse Protection Act (HPA) on Tuesday in Chattanooga's Federal Courthouse.
I personally hope Judge Bill Carter doesn't fall for it. I think Jackie the Jerk needs to be tried, and sentenced, on each of the 47 counts and, if found guilty, each sentence should be served consecutively, or whatever you call it when one penalty must follow the next -- not concurrently. After all, McConnell's repeated criminal acts could wreck the whole walking-horse industry -- Pepsi has already pulled its lucrative sponsorship and today the overall image is tainted and sick.
What's real wrong is that nobody paid much attention back in March when a federal grand jury in Chattanooga returned a total of 52 indictments on Jackie the Jerk and three other "losers"-- Joe Abernathy of Olive Branch, Miss., and two of McConnell's sidekicks from Collierville, Jeff Dockery and John Mays. One indictment alleges they literally put mustard oil in the horse's pasture area, which quickly burned the animal's hooves and legs, but -- c'mon, you say -- it's just an old nag.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. We're talking about the National Walking Horse Celebration, a multi-million-dollar industry that has been plagued for years with deliberately soring animals - injecting caustic chemical in their forelegs, using electric shock devices and anything else that will cause a high-stepper to step a little higher. Jackie the Jerk is an expert -- he's been suspended at least 13 times since 1979 by the USDA for repeatedly violating the Horse Protection Act and was under a five-year probation until just recently.
But when ABC's "Nightline" showed brutal footage of Jackie the Jerk clubbing a horse in the head on Wednesday night, it made the Chattanooga attorneys who argued at Jackie the Jerk's bond hearing look totally ridiculous.
The video footage, obtained at some point last year by the Humane Society of the United States, was apparently shot while McConnell was still under the probation order and one attorney said in March that the 28 horses soon seized at the Jerk's Whittier Stables were all found to be healthy by a government veterinarian. Wow, is that right?
At the March hearing Judge Carter was leery, saying he was concerned there was an ongoing and consistent problem going on in the walking-horse industry and expressly told attorneys, "Your client is not entitled to be out on bond where he can injure an animal. I can't have horse soring and, if we have horse soring, I will put him in jail."
Are you kidding me? Jackie the Jerk is hardly a choir boy and prosecutors gave evidence that he's an habitual scoff-law in the horse industry. Among his 13 suspensions was a notable one in 1995 because he was named "Trainer of the Year" in 1996. The industry is laughable! Jackie's won some big prizes with his horses, too, so who really cares if he's a cruel cheat? I'll answer -- the people of America.
Response to the scathing Nightline video was so fast -- get this -- that the Walking Horse Trainer's Association had an emergency telephone call of its board members on Thursday and they voted to kick Jackie the Jerk out of the club by Friday. Isn't that heartening?
Never mind that pesky five-year probation thing or those 13 "priors," a walking-horse trainer's association spokesman said the board was initially waiting on this Tuesday's court ruling in Chattanooga before deciding if Jackie the Jerk's license should be revoked. But, whoa, after the video was shown all across America and in some foreign countries, board member Link Webb told the Nashville Tennessean the trainers felt they should take faster action. I'm not making this up!
Actually, there have been lame attempts to police the walking horse industry for years but, as the Humane Society's Keith Dane said last week, "The penalties are not sufficient ... jail time is the only sufficient penalty." The state legislature passed a bill that would make aggravated cruelty to livestock a felony instead of a misdemeanor but Governor Bill Haslam has yet to sign it.
It is said that when you take a thick club and wallop a horse in the head like Jackie the Jerk demonstrated to America, the practice is called "stewarding" in walking horse circles. Cheaters do it so a horse won't jerk or flinch when they are being inspected by veterinarians for soring. According to the federal indictment, the loathsome McConnell has done a lot of other cruel things to animals for years. Surprised?
Back in February, another federal judge in Chattanooga sentenced Barney Davis of Lewisburg to a year in jail after he admitted he was guilty of abusing walking horses. Three other guys got one year of probation apiece but in my way of thinking Jackie McConnell ought to be put away for a lot longer -- not based on last Wednesday's "cameo" appearance on Nightline but instead because of the many years he's abused horses and his repeated disregard for anybody's rules. What a bum!
Jackie 'The Jerk' McConnell should be under a federal court order to never get within 10 feet of any kind of animal again. It is evident he's been abusing horses for at least 30 years and, when our newest television scoundrel appears in Chattanooga's Federal Court on Tuesday, I hope he will become a real star in finally cleaning up what should be a beautiful celebration of the horses that we adore.
I hate to wish any man ill but Jackie McConnell needs "stewarding" in the worst way.