Men charged with killing 33 mustangs to plead guilty

Saturday, December 22, 2001

RENO, Nev. -- Two men accused of shooting 33 wild horses to death three years ago in Nevada will plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge involving one horse, a district attorney said Friday.

A lawyer for a third suspect plans to meet with prosecutors Monday.

The trial had been scheduled to begin Jan. 7 after more than two years of legal wrangling that included a change of venue and an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.

"It's a little bit frustrating because I wish the evidence would have tied them more directly to the shootings," prosecutor Sharon Claassen said Friday.

The mass slaughter of the mustangs in the hills east of Reno sparked international outrage at Christmastime 1998.

Two former Marines, Lance Cpls. Darien Brock, 23, and Scott Brendle, 24, and Anthony Merlino, 23, were arrested in January 1999. The two Marines were given less-than-honorable discharges while awaiting trial.

The three former high school buddies from Reno admitted they were in the canyon shooting guns on Dec. 27, 1998, but said most of the horses had already been slaughtered when they came upon them.

Merlino, a construction worker, admitted he shot one injured horse to put it out of its misery but insisted he played no role in the slaughter. He intends to plead guilty to the misdemeanor, said his lawyer, Scott Freeman.

"We were extremely confident about the trial, but ... it's difficult to risk life and liberty and freedom if the offer seems fair under the circumstances," Freeman said.

Prosecutors say Brendle also is prepared to plead guilty. His lawyer did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

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