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January 29, 2013

Former WCAX News Anchor Charged With Animal Cruelty in Horse Case

George Wilson
A former WCAX news anchor found himself on the wrong side of a perp walk on Tuesday.

George Wilson (pictured) was charged with animal cruelty for allegedly keeping horses locked up inside dark stalls on his Shelburne property for years, and letting several other animals die. The 63-year-old was arraigned in Chittenden County Superior Court, under the gaze of local news reporters who used to be his colleagues.

Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan cited Wilson into court Friday, in part because he said Wilson owns guns and made threatening remarks to police investigating the cruelty. A judge ordered Wilson to forfeit the weapons.

According to a police affidavit, Wilson owns a high-powered rifle and made a "bee line" toward it after discovering law enforcement on his property January 15, but he was intercepted by an officer. Shelburne police officer Michael Thomas wrote that before Wilson headed for the gun, he said, "I want everyone to leave or someone is going to get hurt."

Clarendon-based Spring Hill Horse Rescue, which removed two mares and a stallion from Wilson's property on January 15, called it "the worst case of abuse and neglect we have ever seen." The group said it found the horses — named Willie, Dolly and Lolly — standing in several feet of manure, almost blind from lack of sunlight, covered in lice and barely able to stand on badly overgrown hooves. They also found bags of bones from dead horses. (Click here for photos and more background.)

At Wednesday's arraignment, Wilson joked with news crews lined up to film his perp walk. "It's funny being on this side, isn't it?" Wilson called out to a WCAX photographer before his arraignment. Afterward, he complimented Burlington Free Press reporter Mike Donoghue for being the first to confirm his identity as the owner of the horses.

But Wilson vigorously defended himself against the charges, pleading not guilty and saying he never threatened anyone. He denied he ever went for his gun. "I never did. It never came to my mind and I'm just unhappy that we had a large invasion force come onto our property without any notice. Who would like that? It's as if the aliens landed at your house, took your dog, cat, your wife and absconded with them."

Mrs. George WilsonWilson's wife, Ann Gilbreth (pictured), appeared alongside her husband in court Tuesday, but prosecutors withdrew a cruelty charge against her because they could not immediately establish her ownership of the animals. Donovan said he intends to bring charges against Gilbreth. If convicted, each faces up to one year in prison and $1000 in fines.

According to the police affidavit, investigators found two dead bulls on Wilson's property and several live ones that were brought to the slaughterhouse. Officer Thomas wrote that Wilson's house was "incredibly run down with gaping holes in the roof; many cats going in and out of these holes. The front porch is dilapidated and falling in."

Wilson told reporters Tuesday that a Shelburne town official told him they wanted to keep the situation "as low key as possible" and says "the town did their part." He blamed Spring Hill Horse Rescue for publicizing the alleged cruelty and trying to raise money off of the shocking pictures and accounts of the horses' conditions.

"The folks at the rescue have an agenda, and they played it out," he said.

Asked by WCAX reporter Jennifer Reading if he feels his animals were abused or neglected, Wilson answered, "Absolutely not. The abuse took place when they were rescued." He said animals being loaded onto the trailer were cut and bled "profusely" and said the rescue trailer was "wrong for the job."

Wilson was a noontime anchor for WCAX years ago before becoming the station's assistant news director. On Tuesday, he said he left journalism after getting an offer to work on Martha Rainville's 2006 congressional campaign, a job he ultimately turned down. "I finally determined she wasn't going to win, which was unfortunate," he said.

TJ DonovanHe went to work for Walmart as a manager and worked there for five and a half years, he said. He's been unemployed for the past two years.

"There is a lot more in this matter and we will address it as it goes along," he told reporters. "It's a long story. It's a complicated story. And we will tell it and keep you guys informed."

Donovan (pictured) said Shelburne police seized guns from Wilson's house but could not say how many.

He also revealed that complaints about Wilson's property go back "10 to 20 years" and says he's piecing together why no charges were brought previously. Animal welfare advocates have long complained that Vermont prosecutors don't take animal cruelty cases seriously, often pleading them down to lesser charges in order to focus on cases involving human victims.

"We're trying to figure out why it never rose to the level of prosecution," Donovan said. "I was informed yesterday that a case had been declined by one of my predecessors. We just can't sit by and let animals suffer." 

Photos by Andy Bromage

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