A Litigation Article from All-Creatures.org

Persecuted Sanctuary Owner Tracy Murphy Speaks after Gag Order Lifted

From UnchainedTV.com
December 2023

Her gag order finally lifted, Tracy Murphy, the founder of Asha’s Farm Animal Sanctuary, speaks to UnchainedTV about her ordeal and persecution for having helped two wandering cows... “I don’t harbor any ill feelings whatsoever. I just really want to go on with taking care of the animals… and letting them live out their entire life at our sanctuary.”

Tracy Murphy

Finally, after suffering in silence for more than a year, Tracy Murphy’s gag order was recently lifted and she was able to speak to UnchainedTV about her bizarre and gut-wrenching ordeal. The New York State animal sanctuary founder broke down in tears as she described a hellish series of events that still has her facing up to a year in jail and living in limbo with no trial date set.

Murphy, the founder and president of Asha’s Farm Animal Sanctuary is being prosecuted for helping two cows who wandered onto her property in the summer of 2022. While the two cows were ultimately returned to a neighboring farm, Murphy insists it was her refusal to turn them over without first getting what she considered valid proof of ownership that got her arrested, shackled, and charged with felony grand larceny.

Not only was she prosecuted for her act of compassion, but she was targeted by protests and threats as, she says, the surrounding farming community turned against her, accusing her of being a cow rustler.

Gag Order Lifted After Lawsuit

For more than a year, Murphy was unable to talk to the media and banned from using social media. This, she says, deprived her of the ability to effectively fundraise for her sanctuary, leaving her desperate for donations. Help eventually arrived in the form of a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the Cornell Law School’s First Amendment Clinic, arguing, “…the gag order is an unconstitutional prior restraint of speech in violation of the First Amendment, that the order is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and that the order violates New York bail laws.” It was only when presented with this lawsuit that a judge then lifted Murphy’s gag order.

Mystery Caller’s $5,000 Match

So, with the gag order now lifted and her felony grand larceny charge reduced to a misdemeanor petit larceny, Murphy took the opportunity, while speaking to UnchainedTV’s Jane Velez-Mitchell, to explain her precarious situation.

An anonymous caller watching the interview was so moved by Murphy’s predicament that he has offered to match all donations up to $5,000. Those who wish to help can visit the donation page of Asha’s Farm Animal Sanctuary, which is a 501(3)c, tax-exempt, not-for-profit organization (Tax ID 90-1037902). Donations will help care for the more than 30 rescued farmed animals at Asha’s, providing food, shelter and veterinary care. It will also allow her to continue to respond to dire animal rescue situations and raise public awareness through her compassionate education programs.

Rescuing Farmed Animals in Need

Tracy Murphy was a banking executive when she decided to go vegan out of her love for animals. She moved to a remote and rural part of New York State about 35 miles north of Buffalo, a town called Newfane, not far from Lake Ontario and the Canadian border. That’s where she founded Asha’s Farm Animal Sanctuary where she cares for more than 30 rescued cows, pigs, sheep and other species. Here’s how she explains what happened in July of 2022 when her ordeal began:

“One day I was out getting my coffee early in the morning like I normally do — and it was before my workers were even at the sanctuary — and I pulled up in the driveway, I looked across, and I was like, ‘Is that Moses?’ I thought that one of the rescued cows was outside of the fence. I looked again and I was like, ‘No, that’s not Moses.’ I got out of the car, and they were these two precious young cows. I immediately thought, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re loose, they’re on the sanctuary, they could get hit by a car, they could leave, they could run in traffic, anything could happen.’ I was so concerned about them, so I got them safe, I got them inside the fencing, and got them safe. I immediately called the SPCA. I reported it, I let them know that they were there, and I told them what happened.”

Tracy Murphy explains why she named the cows Ishmael and Little Willow:

“Ishmael means God Will Hear. It’s a very special name to me because it was the name of an employee who had to leave and go back to Mexico because his visa ran out, and he had to leave his family. He was such a wonderful person and helped the sanctuary so much, so that’s who I named him after. And Little Willow was named after a cow that we had rescued that looked a lot like her, and she seemed to have the same personality.”

Murphy looked after them for a while before the police seized them, and she talks about them with fondness and compassion:

“Ishmael was really sweet and shy, and it was like he felt that he needed to be protected. He wanted to trust so badly, but he wasn’t sure of himself, and my heart just went out to Ishmael. Little Willow was a little bit tougher, and she wanted to protect him. She was really sweet; I loved her so much. So, this basically is what I did. I took care of them, and I waited for the SPCA to take their report.”

“We tried for quite a while to find out what happened to the cows… sadly, we can only assume that they were slaughtered, they were killed, and I’m just so sorry because all I wanted to do was protect them.” — Tracy Murphy, sanctuary founder

A Community Turning Against a Compassionate Rescuer

It was a complicated series of events that led up to Murphy’s arrest and the surrounding community’s campaign against her. According to Union Sun & Journal, it was on July 16th, 2022 that Murphy informed the local Niagara County SPCA that the cows had wandered onto her property. On July 22nd, a neighboring farmer spoke with Murphy saying he was the owner and wanted the two cows back. On July 25th, the farmer reportedly visited the sanctuary with state troopers and asked for the cows to be returned to him. Murphy refused saying he would need to show proof of ownership. Murphy’s attorney at the time was also quoted in the paper as offering to purchase the cows for above market value, fearing they were at risk for eventual slaughter as part of the beef industry. On August 2nd, law enforcement returned to Asha’s Sanctuary with a warrant, seized the two cows, and Murphy was arrested, shackled and charged with felony grand larceny in the third degree, which later was reduced to petty larceny (still carrying up to a year in jail). At the time of her arrest, a local TV news report mentioned that shackling someone with no criminal record for a non-violent offense is unheard of. Murphy explains why she did not release the cows straight away:

“All I can say is that somebody had come forward and I had asked for proof of ownership, because I wanted to make sure, and they would not give me the proof of ownership. And, I was not going to hand over these beautiful cows without it.”

According to Murphy, since her arrest she has received multiple death threats and frequent harassment. In the summer of 2023, some residents in this heavily agricultural community protested across the street from Murphy’s sanctuary. Signs mocking her appeared in the area. She pleaded not guilty and her trial was supposed to begin on April 13, 2023 at Town of Newfane Court, but it was postponed to a later date in June 2023, and finally postponed again to a still undetermined date in 2024. Murphy explains that two judges have already stepped away from this hot potato of a case.

“The new judge recused himself because he said that he had relationships with local farmers and that he felt that there could be the potential for bias in the community if he ruled a certain way. Not that he would be, but he did the right thing, and he recused himself. So, that means that I will not be tried in the town of Newfane.”

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