Wife: Shawn Duncan is a person with a family

WESTERLO — People close to the man charged in connection with a horse’s death say news reports of his arrest belied a family man who cares about animals. They have organized a fund-raiser this weekend in Thacher Park, where Shawn Duncan, out on bail, will share a meal with family and friends.

Duncan, 35, was arrested on May 18 after police executed a search warrant stemming from the investigation into the horse’s death and found a stun gun, 15 grams of marijuana, a marijuana pipe, and several bows and arrows at his home in Knox, according to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.

Belle, a retired racing Thoroughbred, was found dead on May 18, lying in its Westerlo pasture with an arrow in its side.

“I think my husband is getting a raw deal when, in the first time in his life, he’s focused on his family,” his wife, Siobhan Duncan, said, insistent that someone besides her husband killed the horse.

His father, Robert Duncan, owned the horse with his wife, Lorraine Duncan. “He knows that his dad’s whole life are horses,” Lorraine Duncan told The Enterprise of Shawn Duncan, her stepson, after the arrest. “Unfortunately, I think he may be going through a difficult time.” She, too, hoped he wouldn’t be proven responsible for the horse’s death, but acknowledged he had recently had a disagreement with his family.

Duncan wasn’t charged with killing the horse. Potential charges for doing so include animal cruelty, which is a felony, under a 1999 amendment to the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law, called Buster’s Law.

After the horse’s killing, Republican Assemblyman James Nicholas “Jim” Tedisco from Glenville said bills he has sponsored would make it clearer for law enforcement to make arrests in such cases. One of the bills would create a statewide registry for animal abusers, and another would include horses under the definition of companion animals and force anyone convicted under Buster’s Law to be evaluated before owning another pet.

Both bills have been introduced in previous legislative sessions, Tedisco’s chief of staff, Adam Kramer, said. He noted the legislation to create a registry passed the Senate on Animal Advocacy Day, on May 28, and is sponsored in the Assembly by Didi Barrett, a member of the Democratic majority.

Albany County has its own registry of animal abusers, but, Kramer said, offenders can easily move to a county that doesn’t.

“I agree with it. I don’t think it’s going to cause any burden on anybody,” Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said of the amendment to Buster’s Law.

Many cases of mistreated animals, often in the county’s rural Hilltowns and suburbs, are difficult to charge under animal cruelty, Apple said. “You need to reach a certain level in order to charge for Buster’s Law, and it’s sometimes a problem getting to that level,” he said. “I would not have an opposition to stiffening all these animal-abuse crimes.”

The law says the charge means an offender has caused extreme pain to a companion animal or done so in an “especially depraved or sadistic manner.”

Robert Duncan said this week that he is planning to start a fund in honor of Belle. Donated money would go toward obtaining and treating abused or neglected horses.

Since the story of Belle's death was told by the press, people from across the country called the Duncans in sympathy, he said. Duncan said a woman from Arkansas, whose daughter's horse was killed by a boyfriend, is trying to set up a similar rescue operation.

"A lot of people don’t realize the maintenance and the care it takes to take care of livestock," he said.

Shawn Duncan was charged with third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a Class D felony, and unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation.

Apple confirmed evidence of tire tracks and shoe prints were taken from the scene where the horse was killed last month. On Friday, he said evidence sent to the State Police crime lab would take time to be analyzed.

Siobhan Duncan said the bows and arrows found at the Duncan residence on Filkins Lane were used by his children, and the stun gun didn’t have batteries in it.

“If he had known that was a violation of his probation, it would never have been in our house,” she said of the stun gun, which the arrest report says was in their bedroom.

Duncan met his wife when they were teenagers. She acknowledged he has had a rough past, but says he brings home injured animals to care for and has a Rottweiler and a beagle at home.

Over a year ago, Duncan broke his leg by accidentally stepping in a horse-shoe pit, Siobhan Duncan said.

While recovering after surgeries for the past year, Duncan spent more time at home with their three children, ages 7, 13, and 15, his wife said.

“Right now, what’s killing me is his daughter’s birthday is coming up and he’s the one who always organizes it,” Siobhan Duncan said, before her husband was released.

She said he has been on probation for 20 months without problems and was lining up jobs as his leg healed; he works in construction.

Some of Duncan’s past is recorded in Enterprise archives. He was arrested by the sheriff’s office when it found 37 marijuana plants in his home in 2003. He was sentenced to two-and-two-thirds to five-and-one-third years in jail after he was arrested for burglarizing homes with others as a teenager. When he was younger, Duncan was in 4-H Club, and he won several trophies for barrel racing, his wife said.

Siobhan Duncan said she wished the sheriff’s office hadn’t released information about the arrest to the media and believes the office wasn’t justified in its search of their home. Apple declined the week of the arrest to describe the evidence used to obtain the search warrant.

“I was in a very deep depression until my sister picked me out of it,” Siobhan Duncan said before her husband was released. “My children want to know when Daddy’s coming home.”

Her sister, Chelsea MacCormack, is organizing the fund-raiser with Duncan’s nieces. MacCormack said Wednesday she expects more than 20 people at the event, which will be near Hailes Cave in Thacher Park at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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