Accused horse shooters to enter pleas | NevadaAppeal.com

Accused horse shooters to enter pleas

F.T. Norton, Appeal Staff writer

VIRGINIA CITY — Two of the three men accused in the 1998 Christmas-time slaughter of more than 30 wild horses near Virginia City are expected to enter plea agreements to lesser charges, said Storey County Deputy District Attorney Sharon Claassen.

Originally set to enter pleas today in Virginia City in front of District Judge Michael Griffin, the hearing was postponed because Griffin was ill.

A new date is expected to be set before Jan. 7 when the trio’s trial was scheduled to begin.

“Two of the three are expected to plea,” Classen said Thursday. She was unable to speak about the specifics of those agreements.

“The negotiations are in the process of being finalized,” she said.

One of those expected to enter a plea is Anthony Merlino, a Reno construction worker .

“After a long and arduous process we believe that there will be a fair resolution. Mr. Merlino is looking forward to getting this behind him,” said his attorney, Scott Freeman.

Attorneys for the other two men were unavailable for comment.

Merlino and former U.S. Marines Darien Brock and Scott Brendle, were arrested in January 1999 after a Dec. 27, 1998 report of horses shot in the Lagomarcino Canyon area between Lockwood and Virginia City.

Searchers eventually found a total of 33 shot horses — 29 that were dead and four that had to be destroyed.

The slayings caused international outrage.

A tip from a woman who allegedly heard one of the defendants at a party bragging about shooting the horses led authorities to Merlino. Brock and Brendle were home on Christmas leave from their bases in Southern California at the time of the shooting. The three men are Reno natives and attended high school together.

The three men admitted they shot at horses and killed one in the area on the night of Dec. 27, 1998, the first day authorities found carcasses.

Brendle also confessed to spraying one dying or dead horse with a fire extinguisher. But all three denied any involvement in a mass killing.

Both Brendle and Brock were given less-than-honorable discharges from the Marine Corps following their arrests.