PALMETTO, Fla. (WFLA) — Steve Stephens admits he’s never recovered from the heartache. “That image never leaves you,” he told WFLA. “You imagine him suffering.”
His prize-winning show horse was killed in a savage, shocking case of animal abuse that made headlines around the world just over a year ago. It was a case so cruel that even longtime Manatee County investigators were shocked by what they saw on Oct. 26, 2015.
Stephens’ horse, who was described as incredibly gentle and trusting, was found dismembered on the property of Imperial Farms Equestrian Center in Palmetto. The 12-year-old show horse who loved people, was led to his death, forced to suffer unimaginable pain.
Steve was understandably heartbroken. “This is a murder. This was not a sickness,” he told us. “This is an outright murder.”
Stephens’ wife, Debbie, had traveled abroad and found the horse in Germany and was planning to show him. “He was ready to compete,” said Steve.
The horse was in Tampa Bay for just three days before he was killed. Named ‘Phedras De Blondel’, the kind animal was a member of their family, Steve said. “We couldn’t believe it, it’s unbelievable.”
Manatee detectives believe Stephens’ horse was killed by a traveling ring working its way through Florida, slaughtering horses for their meat.
On Friday, a break came in the case. A 70-year-old Miami man was arrested after a massive, multi-agency investigation that included the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Investigators say they discovered the man was selling illegal horse meat.
Manuel Coto-Martinez was arrested on two felony counts, including the unlawful sale of horse meat. Back on November 10, an undercover officer from the Miami-Dade Police Department got a tip from an informant, sources say.
The officer purchased 20 pounds of meat for $140 from Coto-Martinez, said investigators, at the man’s property off NW 182nd Street and 132nd Avenue.
So, is this case connected to the horrific slaughter of the beloved horse from last August? Investigators are looking at all possibilities.
Meanwhile, Steve and his wife, Debbie, have taken every safety precaution necessary — including high tech laser beams, alarms and cameras– to prevent this tragic crime from happening again.
“The people who do this are evil,” Steve said. “They need to be stopped.”
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