Judge refuses to dimiss circus elephant abuse case

By Brian BergsteinThe Associated Press
Tuesday December 18, 2001

SAN JOSE — A judge refused to drop elephant abuse charges Monday against a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus star, setting up a closely watched trial this week. 

Mark Oliver Gebel, 31, is charged with using a hooked stick known as an ankus to wound an elephant that was being paraded into a circus performance in San Jose on Aug. 25. The misdemeanor charge of elephant abuse carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. 

Animal rights groups hope the case supports their long-held claims that circuses with wild animals are cruel and outdated. 

Asking for the case to be dropped, defense attorney James McManis said that even if Gebel did what prosecutors allege, it was by no means the greatest blow on Earth. The wound in question was the size of a pinprick and left a blood stain as big as a nickel, McManis said. 

“That’s as good as this case will get, no matter how many days we spend trying this case, no matter how many witnesses we call, no matter how many jurors we inconvenience in this holiday season,” McManis told the judge. 

Prosecutor Carolyn Powell said, however, there’s no evidence the wound was merely equivalent to a pinprick. 

Judge Linda Condron agreed to let the case proceed, and set jury selection for Tuesday morning. The trial could last about a week. 

Gebel is the son of legendary Ringling Bros. trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams, who died in July at 66.  

Gebel said he was looking forward to getting the case over with but declined further comment.