Testimony ended Monday in the trial of Arcata rancher Ray Christie, with the prosecutor calling two witnesses to challenge the case presented by the defense. James Geth, a former Christie ranch hand, said Christie told him removing identifying eartags from cows was illegal but instructed him to do it anyway. Earlier in the trial, a state veterinarian testified removing the tags was a federal offense.
“I was specifically told it was illegal, and that no-one was ever supposed to know that we ever took those tags off those cows,” Geth said. Geth, under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada, said he worked for Christie from June 2018 to March 2019. He quit because Christie “refused to pay me for my services.”
He said he worked six to seven days a week, up to 15 hours a day, at Christie’s ranch on Jackson Ranch Road in the Arcata Bottoms.
“Were you paid under the table?” Kamada asked.
“We were paid in cash, always.”
Geth also participated in branding cows Christie had purchased, searing them with Christie’s “J Bar” brand. If the cow had previously been branded, he was told “to make the other brand disappear, to put some cow crap or something on it to hide it.”
Under cross-examination, defense attorney John Cogorno asked Geth whether the branding method was “for purposes of theft.”
“I would hope not,” Geth said. Geth acknowledged he is a “two-striker” who served seven years and eight months in state prison for armed robbery. He said Christie was aware of his criminal record when he hired him.
Christie is not charged with removing eartags. He is accused of animal cruelty and littering (with numerous cow carcasses) within 150 feet of state waters. But in a hearing two weeks ago outside the jury’s presence, Kamada said the prosecution believes Christie removed identifying tags as part of scheme to disguise conventional cows as “organic.”
Judge Christopher Wilson declined to allow that evidence in, saying it was a conclusion and not a fact.
On Monday Geth, despite his disagreements with Christie, defended his ranching practices.
“Mr. Christie is not in the business of neglecting his cows,” Geth said. “Mr. Christie does not like to see his cows neglected.”
During a multi-agency raid on Christie’s properties in March 2018, officers discovered numerous rotting carcasses and several animals that appeared to be dying of starvation. A state veterinarian testified that on a property surrounded by Freshwater Slough, up to 90 percent of the herd was “very thin to dying.”
The second witness to testify during rebuttal was Humboldt livestock Deputy Travis Mendes, who began by recounting the numerous times he was called because cows or bulls had escaped from Christie’s property. Many of the escapees were from a Christie-owned ranch on Crannell Road. Christie’s former wife lives on the property.
Mendes also testified he had found a ledger in Christie’s barn at Jackson Ranch, containing records of former and current “back tags” and new eartag numbers.
Cogorno, cross-examining the deputy, asked whether it was true that in addition to eartags, cows are identified by a tattoo in their ears.
“I’m not aware of any tattoos,” Mendes said.
Producing a photo of a dead cow found on one of Christie’s parcels, Cogorno asked Mendes whether he had moved anything before taking the picture.
“Yes, I did. They had put a wheelbarrow and some kind of white bucket on (the carcass), trying to hide it.”
Cogorno, noting the dead cow had some blue twine on its leg, asked whether Mendes knew if the cow died while in the process of being stolen. Mendes said he didn’t know.
“Do you know how it got there”
“Do you know how long it was dead?”
“You left that cow there.”
“I left it where I found it. The Sheriff’s Office does not collect dead animals.”
“Did you cover it up so children could not see the cow?”
One of Cogorno’s defenses is that some of the cows in question can’t be proven to be Christie’s. Mendes acknowledged he had never seen Christie’s brand on any of the animals that escaped from the Crannell Road ranch. However, when contacted, Christie always claimed ownership.
As to who was responsible for the wandering animals on Crannell Road, Cogorno suggested it might have been Christie’s former wife Jennifer Christie.
“She told me she had absolutely nothing to do with the cattle business,” Mendes testified. “The cows belonged to the defendant Mr. Christie.”
“That’s what she told you,” Cogorno responded. “And you believed it.”
Cogorno called just two witnesses for the defense. One witness showed drone footage of some of Christie’s properties around the county. The other was ranch hand Brandon Horn. He said cows found dead or in crowded, muddy conditions at the Jackson Ranch Road property must have been left there overnight by an unknown truck driver.
Jurors have today off while Judge Wilson and attorneys discuss jury instructions. They will be back Wednesday morning to hear the instructions and closing arguments.
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