An Elkmont dog breeder accused of animal cruelty in the deaths of 43 dogs has been found innocent of the charges due to mental defect.
Nan Hornbuckle Johnson, 64, of 25779 Putman Circle, who has been undergoing treatment for a delusional disorder since her arrest, will likely be ordered to continue medical treatment, to be evaluated every 90 days and to forgo keeping any animals.
District Attorney Brian Jones said during a competency hearing today before Limestone County Circuit Judge Bob Baker he had stipulated during a previous hearing that Johnson was not guilty due to mental defect. The prosecution based its decision on Johnson’s treatment records, accounts by law-enforcement, a mental evaluation by a defense psychiatrist following her arrest, and a mental assessment performed in July by the state’s forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Douglas McKeown.
Johnson had been convicted last year on two of the 43 counts, but her attorney, Harlan Mitchell of Athens, had appealed the case because he believed she was not guilty due to mental defect at the time of the incident.
Because both the defense and prosecution had already agreed she was not guilty of the crimes due to mental defect, today’s hearing was a chance for the court to determine whether Johnson was a threat to herself or others, whether she should remain free and undergo treatment on an out-patient basis or sent to a mental facility for in-patient treatment, and whether her treatment should be monitored every 90 days or sooner.
McKeown, the only witness to testify at the hearing, said there was evidence Johnson had suffered “mini strokes” prior to starving the dogs and that she was incapable of understanding her actions at the time because of a delusional disorder. He said she improved significantly once she began taking anti-psychotic medication but that she would have to be monitored.
In summarizing McKeown’s testimony, Baker said it appeared Johnson was not a danger to her self or others, that she did not require in-patient treatment and that her treatment at the Veteran Administration Hospital should be monitored at least every 90 days. However, the judge said he would evaluate the testimony another evidence and render a decision soon.
A jury was to hear the case at 9 a.m. Nov. 14 but the case was continued to Nov. 30 after Jones requested a competency hearing for Johnson, which was granted by Judge Baker, according to court records.
Johnson was arrested April 2, 2010, after Limestone County Sheriff’s investigators found 43 dead dogs and 29 malnourished dogs at her home. One of the dead dogs was found dead in its kennel and the other 42 were wrapped in plastic and three freezers, one of which also contained frozen meat and vegetables. A call from a concerned citizen prompted officers to check on the animals.
Investigators believe the dogs died of starvation. Johnson told investigators she froze the dead dogs because someone was coming to help her properly bury them but had not yet done so.
Johnson’s estranged husband and a longtime acquaintance from Huntsville said Johnson’s health and mental state appeared to be deteriorating in the months leading up to the deaths of the dogs.
The acquaintance shared several emails with The News Courier in which Johnson stated more than once that she believed the devil was watching her and causing problems in her life.