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McGrapth Sentenced to House Incarceration, Probation

Xavier McGrapth was sentenced on 13 counts of second-degree animal cruelty.

Bobby Shiflet/Frames On Main

Dire financial straits and inexperience overwhelmed Xavier McGrapth in 2021 when his fledging boarding and training business unraveled and left him with more than a dozen horses he didn't have the resources to care for properly.

Paralyzed by his situation, the young man took the worst route possible—he didn't notify his clients and didn't seek help. The tragic result was two horses died in his care and 11 others were malnourished to varying degrees. One out-of-state client, Alyssa Evans, said she put in McGrapth's care a broodmare that by her estimate was within a month of foaling. When she checked on her horse a couple of months later, the mare was obviously no longer pregnant but McGrapth could not account for what happened to the foal.

It was Evans who, during another visit to the property near Paris, Ky., that McGrapth leased for his business, discovered the carcasses of the dead horses and found the rest malnourished. She called the Bourbon County Sheriff's Department that investigated, which led to McGrapth being charged with 13 counts of second degree animal cruelty.

McGrapth eventually pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced June 22 in Bourbon County District Court to a combination of 25 days of house incarceration and probation over a period of 12 months. He also must repay at least $8,801 in restitution to his clients, who had to buy hay and feed for their horses, pay for extra veterinary care to restore their health, and for shipping costs they didn't anticipate needing, among other expenses.

Bourbon County Attorney G. Davis Wilson argued before Judge Mary Jane Phelps to have her sentence McGrapth to a full one year in jail, the maximum penalty allowed for the charges he faced.

"The bottom line is that he advertised himself as an experienced horseman and provided false and misleading information to his clients and then got in over his head," Wilson said. "It was Alyssa Evans who discovered the horses and notified law enforcement, and we didn't hear anything from Mr. McGrapth for 25 days. He didn't come forward, requiring the property owner and third parties to care for these horses. If he'd come forward on March 19, it could have avoided the situation from being as serious."

Lexington attorney Braxton Crenshaw, who is representing McGrapth, told Phelps that McGrapth realizes and taken ownership of the mistakes he made but, with no prior history of legal trouble, deserved probation instead of incarceration.

"He has virtually no record. Certainly nothing even remotely related to animal cruelty," he said. "Obviously we hope he has the opportunity to earn money so he can pay these people back. We don't feel he presents a threat to the community, and when this is resolved, he will no longer participate in the Thoroughbred industry."

As part of his sentence, McGrapth is prohibited from owning or working with any type of horse for at least two years. He currently works at an appliance and furniture rental business in Frankfort.

Phelps had sole discretion in deciding McGrapth's sentence. A self-professed animal lover, she said she recognized the seriousness of McGrapth's crime and was thankful the case didn't go to a jury trial where she would have been required to see even more pictures she was sure to be "very disturbing."

"These animals 100% rely on humans for their care and these horses did suffer," she said. "On the other hand, I have had very few defendants come in and straight up claim responsibility and give wide discretion to the court to decide their sentence."

Phelps said each case she considers is scrutinized as to whether jail time or probation is most appropriate.

"Honestly, if I just sent everyone to jail, they would have to build three more jails. In this case, I do believe the maximum should be imposed, but I also feel Mr. McGrapth is an excellent candidate for probation. He needs to be employed to pay his restitution."

McGrapth's legal problems did not end with his sentencing. He still faces a potential felony charge of theft by failure to make required disposition of property. He is being sued by former clients Blaine Gerow and Donald Peterson on the grounds that McGrapth didn't use the money paid to him to properly care for their horses, or, when he knew he could not provide the service for which he was being paid, did not return any of the money he received.

This case has been submitted to a grand jury that will decide if there is enough evidence to warrant indicting McGrapth and moving on to a trial. Neither Phelps or Wilson could estimate when the grand jury would make a decision but said it was likely to be several months due to the case load.

A decision on the restitution owed to Gerow was delayed during Wednesday's hearing because it could be addressed later in the criminal case.

After announcing his sentence, Phelps asked McGrapth if he had learned anything and whether he had anything to say to horse owners Evans and Gerow, who attended the hearing via Zoom and testified earlier in the day during a session to work out restitution.

"I've learned not to bite off more than I can chew," he said before turning to a large monitor through which Gerow and Evans watched him. "I am sorry for everything that happened with their animals. I didn't mean for things to happen the way they did. I hope later down the road to make things better for everybody."