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Jury acquits DVM of abuse, theft counts

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Desert Hills, Ariz.- Dr. Joshua Winston spent more than a year fighting to clear his name, which he says has cost him nearly $250,000 and more grief than he cares to recall.

DESERT HILLS, ARIZ.— Dr. Joshua Winston spent more than a year fighting to clear his name, which he says has cost him nearly $250,000 and more grief than he cares to recall.

Though he was cleared of all charges, he worries that his ordeal could happen just as easily to anyone else in the veterinary profession.

Winston was arrested in June 2007 after being accused of animal abuse by hitting a Chihuahua in the head and dislodging its eye. He also was accused of theft by charging for a dog vaccination he didn't provide.

A jury in Maricopa County Superior Court acquitted Winston, 54, of Sun City West Animal Hospital, of both counts in September.

The accusations, Winston says, originated from a disgruntled employee who was about to be fired and wasn't even in the room during the alleged abuse. Those who were present and could have backed up Winston's account of events were not interviewed, he says.

Winston, who has been practicing veterinary medicine 25 years, says he previously had never received a board complaint, been sued for malpractice or accused of mistreating or injuring an animal in his care.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office brought Winston before the Arizona Veterinary Board in September 2007 as a separate issue, Winston says, in an effort to pull his license.

The board sided with Winston.

But the stigma remains, he says. "Once you're accused, even if you are exonerated twice, this doesn't leave you," he says. "You can't fully be innocent; there will always be this little footnote. Even my great-grandchildren will be able to Google me, and they will find this."

During his legal battle, clinic business dropped, but soon picked up again.

"The practice suffered, but it wasn't fatal," Winston says. "I maybe received six death threats and hundreds of instances of support."

The Maricopa County Attorney's office released this statement after the acquittal:

"While this office and the court felt there was enough evidence to bring the case to trial, we accept the jury's decision. Animal-cruelty cases are serious, and in this particular case the dog suffered substantial injuries. Unfortunately and oftentimes in animal-cruelty cases, the victims are defenseless."

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