Stephen Richard Fennell
Set a fire that killed 19 horses
Grosse Point, MI
July 8, 2001
Stephen Richard Fennell, age 23, went to a party given by Joseph Evola and began drinking. Around 4 am, the party started dying down and Fennell began to joke about throwing a firework into the 91-year-old Grosse Point Hunt Club barn, which was across the street.
According to witnesses, Fennell walked across the street a few minutes later and threw a firework, described as a mortar, toward the barn. By the time the sun was up the barn was burned to the ground and 19 horses were dead.
Fennell (case # 82-01115766-01) was charged with 1 count of arson and 19 counts of willful and malicious killing and/or torture of an animal. The arson charge could bring Fennell 10 years in jail. Each of the animal cruelty charges carries a 4-year sentence and/or $5000 fine and/or 500 hours of community service and the reimbursement of the veterinary bills.
The partygoers (brother & sister, Joseph and Jaclyn Evola, Tom Zorwick & Greg Grosfield) all assembled in the kitchen of the Evola home, never calling 911. Instead they decided to lie to the police and say they were all sleeping at the time of the fire. The Evola's, Zorwick and Grosfield will have to testify in the court case. The Evola's have lived across the street from the Hunt Club for 11 years.
The Hunt club's night watchman Ray Neal, heard a "voop" sound on the roof of the barn and then the fire started. Neal saved 5 horses but the fire was so intense he couldn't get to the rest of them. One horse named Bart, tried to jump through one of the barns small windows but sustained severe chest trauma and had to be euthanized the next day.
6 of the horses belonged to the Hunt clubs' riding school. The rest were being boarded.
The Hunt Club has sued Fennell, Joseph Evola and his parents, Benny & Julie Evola for $1.25 million dollars.
Upon investigation it was determined that Fennell purchased the fireworks the day before on a trip to Cedar Point, Ohio. He then transported them illegally to Michigan.
In court, the Prosecutors state the stable fire burned so quickly that some of the horsed were burned alive.
Fennell was convicted of killing the horses but was acquitted of the arson charges. He was immediately taken to the Wayne County Jail after the verdict because he violated his bond in February 2002 in Troy Michigan where he was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.
Judge Lynne Pierce said there was not sufficient evidence that Fennell intended to burn down the barn only that he intended to torture or possibly mutilate the horses. "There is no question in my mind that when you throw a firecracker into a barn full of hay and horses, that's torture," stated the Judge.
Fennell was sentenced to 1 year in jail and 2 years probation. Fennell will also have to pay restitution for court costs and the veterinary bills, the dollar amount to be determined later. He must also serve 100 hours of community service and attend substance abuse counseling sessions.
The Detroit News
The Detroit Free Press
The 32B District Court