- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - Animal cruelty charges will be dismissed against the owners of a suburban Phoenix kennel and two caretakers charged in the deaths of 21 dogs this summer, prosecutors said Monday.

The charges could be refiled at some point, but the case as presented to a grand jury didn’t take into account the potential for problems with an air conditioning unit, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement.

Caretakers found the dogs passed out in an 8-by-12-foot room June 20. Austin and Logan Flake reported trying to save the animals by hosing and icing them down, but authorities said they didn’t call for emergency assistance before the dogs died.

Green Acre Dog Boarding owners Jesse and Malesia Hughes have said the animals died of heat exhaustion because one dog chewed through the air conditioner’s power cord after their daughter and her husband, the son of U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, left the Gilbert facility for the night.

County sheriff’s investigators said no evidence was found that a chewed-up electrical wire had cut power to a cooling unit, and a veterinarian said some of the dogs likely suffocated. The findings were forwarded to Montgomery’s office for prosecution.

Dennis Wilenchik, an attorney representing the Flakes, argued that the air conditioning unit stopped working because of a clogged air filter. He has asked that the case be presented to another grand jury for reconsideration.

Montgomery said Monday that prosecutors “will confer with investigators and experts to ensure any open questions” are fully answered before a decision is made on whether animal cruelty charges are filed again.

He said one count of fraud remains intact against the Hugheses, alleging that dog owners were fraudulently led to believe their pets would be roaming free and playing with the Hugheses’ children in a spacious backyard. Instead, the pets were kept in a “dog room” that was not shown to prospective customers on tours of the kennel.

The Flakes were looking after the dogs while the Hugheses were on vacation in Florida, according to court records.

In October, the Hugheses were indicted on 22 felony counts and seven misdemeanor counts in the case, and the Flakes on 21 felony counts and seven misdemeanor counts.

All pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“This case never should have been brought in the first place, and we expect that after any further review the county attorney will not find additional evidence to support bringing charges again,” Wilenchik said.

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