DIMMITT, Texas (AP)--A Texas Panhandle beef processor was given a year of probation July 27 after a judge agreed to suspend the animal cruelty case against him and five workers at his plant.

Authorities started investigating Kirt Espenson's E6 Cattle Co. after an animal welfare group gave authorities undercover video footage shot at the plant near Hart, about 65 miles north of Lubbock. It showed pickaxes and hammers being used to bludgeon calves to death.

The felony charge of cruelty to livestock against Espenson will be dismissed if he completes the probationary period and pays the $4,000 fine. Conviction on that count would be punishable by up to two years in a state jail.

The workers indicted with Espenson on similar charges remain at large and are suspected of having sought sanctuary in Mexico, said Castro County District Attorney James Horton.

A call to Espenson went unanswered.

A month before the May indictment, Espenson told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that he had fired four employees seen in the video, added more training for all workers and hired a professional trainer. He said a combination of untrained workers and a high number of sick calves from a February cold spell contributed to the incident.

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