BENSON NC.-- A judge bought a rebellious cowboy's excuse that his stubborn
mule made him curse during Mule Days.
Andy Corbett, Johnston County chief district court judge, choked back
giggles Friday as he declared Chris Lutterloah not guilty of disorderly
The horse trainer from Rocky Point ran into trouble with the law as he
rode his mule Jack back to his campsite after a rodeo during Benson's
rowdy four-day festival last September.
"It was a slip of the tongue in a moment of panic, which we regret,"
Lutterloah told the judge. He apologized for himself and the mule.
Lutterloah, dressed in a gray, pin-striped suit with dressy Western
boots, took a final shot at Benson police for being overzealous, then
lowered his head in a humble plea.
Lutterloah was one of hundreds hauled to court in November for what is
known as Mule Day Court. The docket was so jammed with cases of public
drunkenness and indecent exposure that Lutterloah's trial was delayed.
On Friday, he made his case, and a judge restored his good name.
A smattering of other accused delinquents dared to clap when the
verdict came down. Lutterloah slammed shut his book of North Carolina
statutes and bear-hugged his star witness, Shirley Willetts, who mucks
stalls at his farm and who accompanied him to Mule Days last fall.
In a court where low-level troublemakers typically file in and admit to
speeding or forgetting to use a blinker, this was a rare moment of
theatrics. Lutterloah, who lawyered for himself, hammed it up. He
leaned a map of Benson against an easel and insisted that the
Constitution protects the right of men to ride their horses whenever
they want. He then accused the police chief of having a potty mouth and
drilled Willetts for nearly 20 minutes on the stand.
"Ma'am, have you been promised any money or favors in exchange for your
testimony?" Lutterloah asked Willetts. Willetts, whose crimped blond
hair brushed against her denim jacket, shook her head emphatically.
"Shirley, have you ever been arrested before?" Lutterloah pressed.
"No sir, I never had as much as a jaywalking ticket," said Willetts,
who got a ticket that same night for riding her horse after dark. "I go
to road checks and pop my trunk and ask if they want to search my car."
Willetts ran her hands against Corbett's bench, using hand gestures to
describe how she and Lutterloah were trying to get back to camp when
police cornered them.
"It was late, the horses were hungry, and Jack had been giving us a fit
all day," Willetts said.
Jack's obstinacy is legendary at Lutterloah's farm. In November,
Lutterloah brought Jack to court so the judge could see the beast's
stubbornness for himself. That day, Jack, a tall chestnut beast who
looks more like a Budweiser Clydesdale than a mule, paced outside the
courthouse and pooped on the town hall steps.
This time around, Jack stayed home. Lutterloah said he didn't want to
push his luck and anger the judge. If the judge had found him guilty,
the crime could have landed him in jail for as much as two months.
But Corbett, himself a horseman, sympathized with a cowboy just trying
to feed his beasts.
"That horse was hungry," Corbett said later, explaining his verdict.
"He was spurring him and trying to do all he could under the
It was a proud day for Mule Day rowdies. Corbett became a hero.
Willetts snagged his autograph before she left and vowed to look for
him next Mule Days.