A memorial to Jelly on the Muddy Creek Greenway.

Frankly, it’s frustrating to learn that no harsher punishment has been meted out to the party or parties responsible for the heartless shooting of three horses just over a year ago — a shooting that killed one horse, a Paint-Percheron mix mare named Jelly. But that doesn’t mean there are no positive outcomes.

One early Saturday morning last May, local officers responded to reports of three vehicles traveling at high speeds on the Muddy Creek Greenway on the west side of Winston-Salem. They discovered that someone had shot and killed Jelly, kept in a field next to the greenway. Dixie, a mare, had also been wounded and a male horse named Cisco had minor injuries from stray pellets.

Their investigation led them to arrest Alonzo D’Juan Cross, now 20, and three juveniles. A picture emerged of a wild night of gun theft, auto theft and joy riding. Those involved faced more than a dozen charges, including three counts of felony animal cruelty and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The Journal joined the community in expressing outrage for the casual cruelty of firing on horses peacefully grazing in a field.

But now that Cross’ case has been resolved in court, we’re all left with a sense of dissatisfaction, to say the least. Cross, who allegedly wielded the weapons, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a stolen firearm last week. The other charges were dismissed as part of a plea deal. Cross received a suspended sentence of six months to 17 months in jail, a year of supervised probation and a $960 restitution fine.

“Based upon the evidence that was available to us, we would not have been able to successfully prosecute Cross for shooting the horses,” Assistant District Attorney Jane Garrity told the Journal’s Michael Hewlett in an email. “What we believe and what we can prove are often two different things.”

There’s also a sense of dissatisfaction because while there may be factors at work in the case of the juveniles involved, we may never know what punishment, if any, they receive.

It’s difficult to call on our better angels at a time like this. The attack on the horses feels like an attack on our community and on decency itself.

But civilization calls for sobriety and maturity. We’ve decided, as a society, to abide by consistent rules of evidence that protect the innocent, even if they allow a few bad apples to escape justice, too. We also have a set of rules that apply to juveniles in an attempt to redeem them rather than condemn them to wasted lives. That includes guarding their privacy.

It’s tempting to blame the prosecutor for failing to make a stronger case — we want to blame somebody. But Garrity, who works solely on animal cruelty cases, is reportedly a horse lover. If anyone was motivated to see the appropriate parties punished, she was. There’s no evidence that anyone else could have achieved a different outcome.

So what are we left with, besides frustration?

There are still things we can do to help achieve justice for animals that are treated wrongly. Russell Robinson, a U.S. Army veteran who owns Cisco, was inspired by Jelly’s death to participate in the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s program, which allows veterans to train wild horses.

The rest of us can volunteer and donate to organizations that rescue animals and help them find safe, loving homes. We can consider adoption of a dog or cat that would become a loyal family member. We can advocate for better animal protections and harsher punishments for abusers.

And next to the field where Jelly lived, there’s a makeshift memorial. Maybe a visit, with the kids, is in order.

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