msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/8/2004 1:08:33 PM ET 2004-06-08T17:08:33

A Texas woman convicted of neglecting two horses in her care has been sentenced to serve 30 days in jail — the first three of which will be spent with a diet of only bread and water, a judge said Tuesday.

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In imposing the unusual sentence with "dietary restrictions" on Melissa Dawn Sweeney on Monday, Harris County Criminal Court at Law Judge Mike Peters was quoted by the Houston Chronicle as saying, "She's going to get more than her horses got."

The judge on Tuesday confirmed that he also required Sweeney to post blown-up photographs of the malnourished and ailing horses on her jail cell wall. “I want her to be forever reminded of what her conduct did to those horses,” he told Reuters.

Peters allowed the 28-year-old Sweeney to serve her 30 days on weekends so she can care for her three children.

Judge says punishment fits crime
Peters defended the punishment as appropriate to the crime.

“I used to think back to the time when jail was jail and punishment was punishment, and how they were put in solitary confinement with only bread and water to eat. That was in the back of my mind,” he told Reuters.

Sweeney of Baytown, about 40 miles east of Houston, was convicted Friday of two counts of cruelty to animals after the two horses were found in poor condition in a muddy, trash-strewn lot behind her trailer home. She could have been sentenced to up to two years in jail.

Sweeney, a former stable worker, was accused of leaving the two horses unfed and unsheltered in the back of her Baytown property for more than four months.

When the animals were found in late January, they were emaciated, had intestinal infections and a skin condition known as "rain rot," prosecutors said.

One of the horses had abscesses on his hooves that made it difficult to stand.

"He was just swaying back and forth in pain because he didn't want to put any weight on either foot," the Chronicle quoted Assistant District Attorney Tacie Ball as saying after the three-day trial.

The Chronicle reported it was unable to reach either Sweeney or her attorney, Tom Niederhofer, for comment. But during her trial, Sweeney testified that she fed the animals about 28 pounds of food a day and attributed their condition to advanced age. The horses were in their mid-20s. Healthy horses can live into their early 30s.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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