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Published February 07, 2013, 09:01 PM

Witnesses recall period leading up to death of 96 horses

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Attorney's in Morton and Burleigh counties are painting a picture of a rancher who knew his horses were neglected and suffering and did nothing to help.

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Attorney's in Morton and Burleigh counties are painting a picture of a rancher who knew his horses were neglected and suffering and did nothing to help.

Bill Keifer owned around 250 horses in that area. Recently 96 were found dead, while the rest are at a rescue ranch and dozens still fighting for their life.

At today's petition hearing, attorney's asked a judge to force Bill Kiefer to turn ownership of the horses over to the sheriff's office. Kiefer wasn't there.

But the state's eight witnesses told one gut-wrenching story after another.

Witnesses say these horses were so desperate for food, they took to tree bark, fence posts and panels, scavenging for anything.

Jackson Loftgren , Asst. Morton County State's Attorney: "They don't, except in extreme situation actually eat through the panels?"

Dr. Susan Keller, State Veterinarian: "Honestly I don't think I've ever seen anything this extreme as far as the pictures, so it's unusual."

The fight for food was life or death for the horses, 96 found dead on scene. The ones who live show the marks of what it takes to survive.

Alison Smith, Triple-H Horse Rescue: "Almost all of the horses had several, multiple bites particularly to their faces some on their necks and bodies and I did notice two that had some cuts on their legs, one in particular was pretty bad."

This tragic story came to light in December. A New Salem veterinarian says he told Kiefer what needed to be done to save his horses.

Dr. Dale Householder, Veterinarian: "Part of our recommendation was to sell some of the horses. As far as further feeding we told him to try to spread them out farther to try to improve feed access."

But witnesses say little changed in the month to follow. At the end of January deputies found the 96 dead horses in one spot, 25 of them stacked on one another.

Loftgren: "These would be horse carcasses that had been essentially drug over a hill I'm guessing?"

Dave Shipman, Morton County Sheriff: "I suspect that they were put there based on how they were laying. I suspect they were just put there by the horse owner."

Loftgren: "And these were not visible from the road?"

Shipman: "No."

The judge has 10 days to decide whether to make Kiefer turn over ownership of the horses to the sheriff's office. The State's Attorney's office is yet to file criminal charges.

Meantime, three horses have died since the rescue, one was just last night.

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