Marion man charged with 60 counts of cruelty to animals

MARION, Ark. —A Mid-South man was arrested this week following an exotic animal bust in Marion, Arkansas, and it's not his first time being busted for it.

William Merrit Hale was arrested on Thursday and charged with 60 counts of aggravated cruelty to animals after police were called to his Belair Cove home by a concerned citizen who heard numerous dogs barking inside.

Officers made contact with Hale and asked him to come home, but when he didn't show up, they were granted a warrant to search the premises. That's when they discovered that the 47-year-old was hoarding exotic animals in his home and wasn't taking proper care of them, police said.

Authorities took the animals out of the house one-by-one, and it was like a scene at a zoo with animals like snakes, lizards, birds and alligators taken from the home.

Neighbors said they were horrified with what they saw.

“I take pride in making sure that my kids are safe, so just to know that my neighbor has all these animals in there illegally, that really bothers me," neighbor Kenya Leaks said.

Hale was also busted in 2011 and charged with 41 counts of animal cruelty while living in Proctor, Arkansas. At the time, animal control said it was the worst case of neglect they had ever seen.

Authorities haven't released information on all the kinds of animals that were rescued Thursday, but neighbors WREG spoke to said they counted nine alligators.

“Very, very sad, that’s a harsh way of living," Leaks said. "They’re in plastic containers; they’re in cages. My understanding is that the snakes were very upset. I’m not sure if they were even fed.”

All of the animals were taken to the Marion and West Memphis Animal Shelters where they will be nursed back to health before they hopefully will find loving homes or can be returned to their natural habitats.

Marion Police said this is an active investigation, and they will release more information at a later time.

—WREG's Peter Fleischer contributed

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