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JUDGE DENIES CHANGE OF ANIMAL CRUELTY PLEA.

Byline: Don Holland Daily News Staff Writer

A case marked by four years of pretrial motions and delays was resolved Monday when the former operator of a children's horse-riding program lost her bid to withdraw her guilty plea to animal abuse.

Renae L. Ferguson, 28, of Tarzana testified that she wanted to withdraw her plea, which she had entered in February, because it was made under pressure from her previous attorney, William Maxwell.

``I was under enormous stress that day,'' said Ferguson, who formerly ran the Tiny Tots riding program in Ventura. ``I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.''

Ferguson's current attorney, Roger Diamond, maintained that Ferguson had not been competently represented and had not understood what she was doing when she pleaded guilty to one count of felony animal abuse.

But under cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Kathy LaSalle, Ferguson conceded that she had reviewed and signed papers pleading guilty to one of the two abuse charges.

And when she'd first told Maxwell she wanted to plead guilty, she testified, she'd agreed to reconsider and decide the next day.

Superior Court Judge Herbert Curtis III, who previously ordered Ferguson to stop delaying her trial with motions, denied her request to withdraw her guilty plea.

Although Ferguson pleaded guilty to a felony, the judge has agreed to convert the conviction to a misdemeanor when she is sentenced May 25. She could be sentenced up to one year in jail and fined $1,000. The second charge of animal abuse is to be dismissed.

Diamond said he was not surprised by the judge's ruling and that Ferguson has the option of appealing.

``It seems to me that this was overcharging on the part of the DA's Office up here - just overly aggressive,'' Diamond said.

In June 1994, prosecutors filed two charges of animal abuse against Ferguson, saying she had so neglected two aging horses that they had to be destroyed. But a steady turnover of defense attorneys and a blizzard of pretrial motions slowed the case.

Ferguson is awaiting trial in Los Angeles County, where she faces animal cruelty charges in an unrelated case.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 20, 1999
Words:355
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