IDABEL, OK (KSLA) - There will be no plea deals offered by Oklahoma prosecutors for 19-year-old Jaci Rae Jackson, the former Southern Arkansas University freshman facing felony charges for her alleged role in the theft of and cruelty to five horses from the SAU rodeo team stables in early November.
A preliminary hearing conference was set to take place on Thursday morning in McCurtain County Court, but that turned out not to be necessary.
McCurtain County District Attorney Mark Matloff says he spoke with Jackson's attorney on Wednesday, and let them know they were not going to offer a plea agreement. Matloff says he's going to let a jury decide what to do with Jackson.
Two weeks after they were stolen, four of the horses were found abandoned and tied pine trees in rural McCurtain County Oklahoma, malnourished and dehydrated, but alive. The remains of the fifth were found in early December. "Credit Card" had been shot, his throat was slit and he had been cut into pieces.
Jackson was arrested on December 5th and charged in Columbia County, Arkansas with six felony counts of theft of property.
The affidavit for Jackson's arrest indicated the theft of the horses was planned out in advance, and pointed to a romance turned sour with one of the horse's owners as a possible motive for wanting the horse killed.
Two others were later charged with possession of stolen things in connection with the case, but not with the theft of the horses themselves. Authorities are still seeking a "person of interest" in connection with the case. William Hamilton, also known as Billy Mitchell, is named in witness statements as the one who allegedly killed "Credit Card" and helped steal the trailer that was taken with the horse.
Thursday's preliminary hearing conference was in connection with charges Jackson also faces in Oklahoma: Three counts of bringing stolen property across state lines and animal cruelty – all felonies.
Preliminary hearings conferences are part of the pre-hearing process, where attorneys for both sides and the defendant may meet to discuss the case. They can also be an opportunity for plea agreements to be worked out. These conferences can take place in the judge's chambers, or even over the phone in a conference call. If no agreements are made, the next step is a preliminary hearing or trial.
A preliminary hearing has been set for March 13, and will deal with both the theft and cruelty charges, as well as the arson charges that Jackson and her mother are facing in a separate case. In a preliminary hearing, the court decides whether there is enough probable cause to take a case to trial.
Short of a plea agreement, Thursday's hearing in itself might not have been a particularly significant milestone in the case as the 200 people who were reportedly prepared to show up for it at the McCurtain County Courthouse.
The case has captured the attention of a large and outraged horse and rodeo community online. The group, which organized through Facebook community pages, has no legal standing on the case. Yet many vowed to travel hundreds of miles to be there, just to demonstrate the rodeo community's interest and determination to see justice done.
Now, they'll have to demonstrate that intense interest at another time, but they say they are not going away.
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