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Poaching Ranchers in Colorado

Oak

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Here's the article from right after he was convicted:

Craig — After almost nine hours of deliberation, Rodney Culver*well’s jury found him guilty of 16 of 80 poaching charges filed against him April 1 by the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Culverwell was convicted of four of 16 counts of willful destruction of big game, a Class 5 felony; four of 16 counts of illegal possession of wildlife, a misdemeanor; four of 16 counts of hunting without a license, a misdemeanor; four of 16 counts of hunting out of season; and none of 16 counts of waste of edible game meat.

His wife, Margaret, sobbed when the judge read the first guilty verdicts.

All charges leading to convictions related to the same four elk. Culverwell was acquitted on all counts relating to other elk in the case.

Culverwell’s sentencing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Nov. 4. A possible sentence in the case can include jail time, fines, parole and hunting license suspensions.

More than 20 audience members watched court proceedings, when attorneys for both sides laid out the case as they saw it.

The prosecutor and the defense attorney had different plans for how Rodney Culverwell’s jury should view the evidence.

“This is not a case between Mr. Culverwell and the Division of Wildlife,” said Jeremy Snow, deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District, during closing arguments Friday. “This case is about whether he broke the laws of Colorado.”

The jury should convict the defendant because he broke the law, he added, “and no man is above the law.”

Pamela Mackey, Culverwell’s defense attorney, agreed with Snow’s last point, but she said it is a mischaracterization to say the DOW has no place in jury deliberations for several reasons.

First, a “sloppy” investigation by the DOW did not find evidence that proves Culverwell killed all 16 elk charged by the District Attorney’s Office, Mackey said.

Second, testimony from ranchers proves many residents do not think the DOW will help them. This same belief, shared through experience, Mackey said, drove Culverwell to protect his property, himself and his family and put animals out of their misery through illegal means.

Prosecution spoke first

Throughout his closing argument, Snow said Culverwell did not make use of available legal means to solve his problems and that the defendant misrepresented his actions while testifying.

Culverwell admitted to killing six elk this winter. Of those, Culverwell testified he shot three because they were caught in his fence.

He said he couldn’t pull his fences back up with their weight tangled in them and that he couldn’t cut them loose alive because the elk would be dangerous.

There were other solutions besides shooting them right away, Snow said.

Receipts of fencing material purchases made by Culverwell and his wife, Margaret, on the same days Culverwell testified he shot the elk show he was gone from his ranch for at least two hours that day with the elk still tangled.

“That’s a lot of time,” Snow said. “There is no question (Cul*verwell) needed to repair that fence by that evening, certainly. But that day, before he left to buy his own (fencing materials), he could have simply walked over, called the DOW. He didn’t give them that opportunity.”

Nor did Culverwell attempt to stand on the other side of his fences, away from the elk stuck there, and cut them loose before killing them, Snow said.

He shot them “because it was convenient to him to protect his property that way,” Snow told the jury. “He didn’t want to call the DOW; he didn’t want to have to deal with them; he wanted to do it his way.”

For 10 other elk that Snow’s office charged Culverwell with shooting, the deputy district attorney played back excerpts from a covert recording of a conversation between Culverwell and DOW Criminal Investigator Eric Schaller.

In the excerpt, Culverwell discusses three or four other elk in his stackyard that he may have killed. Snow pointed out carcass locations to the jury and said Culverwell’s recorded descriptions matched the scene found by DOW investigators.

The other six or seven elk found on and near Culverwell’s ranch were shot with a .17-caliber rifle, Snow said. Although the DOW did not find a second .17-caliber firearm on Culverwell’s property, shell casings from two distinct .17-caliber weapons were found in his truck.

Snow said that made it clear the defendant had access to two weapons that match ballistics evidence from all elk Culverwell denied shooting.

The defense followed

The DOW’s investigation has too many holes to convict, Mackey said.

For one, there is no ballistics evidence that links Culverwell to any bullet found except in the case of one elk, she said.

“They didn’t (find that evidence), and because they didn’t, they now ask you to guess, to infer, that Rodney Culverwell had another .17-caliber weapon that was used to kill other animals,” Mackey said to the jury, referring to 10 elk Culverwell said he did not kill.

A ballistics expert testified there is no way to scientifically link shell casings to bullets. Mackey said this is another inference the prosecution was asking the jury to make.

The District Attorney’s Office spent nearly four days proving those animals were shot, Mackey said, but they never addressed the question of who shot them.

“Was the question ever answered beyond a reasonable doubt?” she asked. “No.”

The DOW could have searched Culverwell’s home and discovered for certain there was no other weapon to be found, but they did not and said they didn’t want to be “heavy-handed,” Mackey said.

However, Mackey said, the DOW had no problem arriving at their home with hidden tape-recorders while 16 other officers searched their ranch without their knowledge.

“Don’t let them get away with their sloppy gathering of evidence,” Mackey said. “That’s their job. They didn’t do it.”

On the charges involving the six elk Culverwell said he killed this winter, Mackey said testimony from almost every rancher who took the stand in the past two weeks proved the DOW is not a competent agency.

Therefore, she said, he was forced to take the law into his own hands, as the law allows.

“What I hope we have shown you is that many ranchers in your community, including Mr. Culverwell, do not believe the DOW will come help them,” Mackey said. “This DOW that doesn’t have the time or the materials to help ranchers.”

She noted only the “respected, powerful and wealthy” Raftopoulos family were the only ranchers who testified on the DOW’s behalf, a family that had every game damage claim paid in full this year and had DOW officials herd elk off their property, shoot wildlife and field dress the animals themselves.

Other ranchers testified the DOW was not nearly as helpful, Mackey said.

“You are allowed to do what it takes, in a reasonable and necessary way,” she said, “to protect yourself and your property.”
 

JB

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Oak, you dont see a problem with how this was handled by the DOW? just curious.
I'd say someone drop'd the ball......maybe.
 

Oak

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I think that the collection of evidence by the DOW was too shoddy to convict him on all of the charged counts. I think that he should have at least been convicted of killing the elk he confessed to killing. Defense of property is not a legal defense in Colorado, yet it appears that the jury decided on their own that it should be.

It will be interesting to see what side the judge in the case comes down on when sentencing comes around. At any rate, I would expect a LONG suspension of hunting privileges from the DOW when his case is heard by the Wildlife Commission.
 

JB

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consistent and complete incompetence from gate to finish line.... what about the cat like reflex of the DOW to prevent the unnecessary killing of countless elk when they failed to act on the phone calls and e-mails where the guy insinuates his plan. might be 5 or 6 dead elk instead of 16(?) I'd say someone is not doing their job or at the very least.....horrible at it.
 

Oak

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Watson added he never offered kill permits because the Culverwells asked specifically for wood cattle panels to reinforce their fences. Rodney Culverwell knew about kill permits and had been granted them before, but he never asked for them, Watson said.

His testimony continued that he offered to bring wood panels to the Culverwells' ranch and help put them up, but each time he was refused.

Margaret first e-mailed Watson asking for help with wildlife damage Feb. 2, Watson and Mackey agreed. Watson responded that the DOW could provide wood cattle panels to put on their fences and help keep out wildlife.

According to Watson’s testimony, he learned on Feb. 9 that the Culverwells purchased their own wood paneling, which Mackey said cost more than $1,000.

The DOW offered Culverwell exactly what he apparently wanted, and he refused. He didn't even ask for depredation permits. What do you think the DOW should have done in that case?
 

JB

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Also reported in the affidavit, a DOW wildlife officer received an e-mail from Culverwell on June 12, 2007, asking for permission to kill wildlife eating his cattle feed and damaging his property.

“If I have not heard from you within two weeks, I will assume that you do not care and these matters must be taken care of by other means,” the affidavit states Culverwell wrote in his e-mail.

maybe check it out.
 

Oak

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He sent the e-mail in June and killed the elk in January. During that time period, there were 6,960 cow and either-sex tags available for issue in that unit, in addition to unlimited over-the-counter bull licenses. They can kill elk legally in there nearly every day from September through December. I wonder how many hunters he let in to help him with the problem? Probably not many, since an $80,000 lease is out of most hunters' price range.

http://www.leasehunting.com/db/details.mv?osku=1225&tuser=&pasu=
 

JB

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and you gave me just enough rope to hang myself........thanks.;)
 

noharleyyet

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Pretty slick Oak...the prosecution should've called you to the stand.;)

...now cut JB down.:D
 

Wyodeerhunter

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That highway to Craig is dangerous at night during the winter time. Last Dec. we went down there elk hunting and almost tagged out at about 3 am on the highway. Little 6 pt jumped on the road. Then a half hour later we almost got a cow.

After getting our elk the drive home was pretty sad. I think we counted 12-14 dead elk and lots and lots of deer.

What is sad is if we didn't know the rancher (dad grew up with him) there would be very few places we could hunt down there. But the ranchers there are constantly bitching about the elk. Yet they are all leased up by outfitters like Oak pointed out.

I would love to live in Craig if I could. Never saw so many bobcat and mountain lion tracks in my life as I did the weekend I went down there. My .204 ruger has wet dreams about moving there...
 

Oak

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Forgot to post these, as I was out hunting. An interesting aside...I was talking to a DOW employee from this area a couple of weeks ago and he told me that a local rancher has suggested they lower elk tag numbers next year because of the lack of elk this fall. :rolleyes:

Rodney Culverwell, a 41-year-old Moffat County rancher, was sentenced Tuesday [Nov. 4] for four felony convictions related to the deaths of four elk on his property last winter.

The sentence includes 60 days in County Jail, $16,440 in total fines, 196 days of community service and two years’ probation.

Culverwell will be allowed work release from jail to work on his ranch while incarcerated.

The charges stemmed from a Colorado Division of Wildlife investigation last winter, when officers reported finding 18 dead elk on the rancher’s land. Culverwell went to trial for the deaths of 16 of those elk and was convicted in the cases of four.

Pamela Mackey, Culverwell’s defense attorney, said each of the three elk Culverwell admitted he shot were mercy killings. Two of the elk were starving and could become dangerous, she said, and the third accidentally was shot and put down.

Mackey said it was unfortunate the court did not allow the jury to consider a “choice of evils defense,” which would have allowed jurors a legal option for acquitting Culverwell in the deaths of those elk.

Mackey added that two jurors in the case “reached out to her” after the trial and confirmed they might have changed their finding if they knew a person could be within their rights for putting a suffering animal out of its misery.

She asked the court to show leniency in its sentencing because of the specific facts in the case and evidence presented on Culverwell’s behalf showing he has good character and good standing in the community.

O’Hara said he received “many, many” letters for the defendant from local residents and believed him to be “a man of good character.”

“But, the bottom line is, Mr. Culverwell stands before me convicted,” O’Hara said.

The judge added that Cul*verwell’s situation could have turned out differently if he cooperated more with the DOW. The notion DOW officers did not return phone calls for help is inaccurate, he said.

However, O’Hara added, he does not agree with the idea that Culverwell has a disregard for wildlife.

O’Hara also threw out sentences for 11 misdemeanor convictions on the basis that the defendant only committed one crime against each animal. Sentencing Culverwell for three or four crimes when the only criminal act was “pulling the trigger,” O’Hara said, would be duplicitous.

He concluded that the defense could appeal the convictions and his decision to not allow the choice of evils defense for mercy killings, if the defense chose. In that case, O’Hara will order a stay of execution on Culverwell’s sentence until the appeal is heard.

About 50 people watched Culverwell’s sentencing, the majority of whom sat behind the defense table in support of the local rancher.

Afterward, two of them ex**pressed dismay at the judge’s decisions.

Robert Dunn, of Savery, Wyo., said it is “ridiculous” to sentence a man to jail for killing four elk, especially when the DOW has license to kill hundreds for fears of chronic wasting disease.

“We’re talking about 60 days in jail and $16,000 for four starving elk,” he said.

Dunn also worried that Culverwell will not be able to keep up with work on his ranch this winter, even with work release from jail.

“When you are calving cattle, it’s a 24-hour-a-day deal,” Dunn said.

Dick Becker, who has owned a ranch near Maybell for eight years and ranched on the Eastern Plains for 15 years before that, said the DOW should be sued or investigated for the problems it allowed to continue during the course of last winter.

He said there were at least six starving elk that died on his property during that time, and another herd of 300 antelope that died nearby.

“I think the DOW needs to be sued … for criminal acts of not protecting the wildlife,” Becker said. “That’s their job, and I saw nobody take any action to help the animals out there.

“This is a travesty of justice to set a precedent for a rancher when the DOW is not doing their job.”

And an appeal:

A judge’s order will keep Rodney Culverwell out of Moffat County Jail for the foreseeable future.

Culverwell has been granted a stay for the “substantive” terms of his sentence, including all jail time, fines and fees.

Michael O’Hara, chief judge for the 14th Judicial District, issued the order Nov. 7 after Culverwell’s attorney filed an appeal of his convictions.

The case is now set for the Colorado Court of Appeals. The state Attorney General’s Office will assume prosecution.

Culverwell, a 41-year-old Moffat County rancher, was convicted in September of four counts of willful destruction of big game, a Class 5 felony, as well as four counts of illegal possession of wildlife, three counts of hunting without a license and four counts of hunting out of season, all misdemeanors.

He was sentenced Nov. 4 to 60 days in county jail, two years’ probation, 172 hours community service and $19,567.65 in fines and fees.

O’Hara’s order will stay Culverwell’s jail time, fines, fees and community service until after his appeal is decided. However, Culverwell still is expected to report to the County Probation Department at its request and fulfill conditions it sets.

Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Snow, who was the lead prosecutor in Culverwell’s case in Moffat County District Court, said his office has no reason to challenge the judge’s decision.

Officials with the Court of Appeals said there is no timeline for when the case will be heard or decided.

In general, there are a few months for attorneys to file motions or other court documents before requesting a date for oral arguments. There likely would be a minimum of three to four months after that before oral arguments are heard, and then no timeline for when a final decision would be released.

The 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office filed charges against the rancher after the Colorado Division of Wildlife reported finding 18 dead elk on his property in February.

Culverwell admitted to killing some of the elk to either defend his property, himself or his family, or to put the animals down because they were starving to death during an abnormally harsh winter.

The 12-person jury in the case did not convict Culverwell of wrongdoing in the cases of elk killed to defend his fences and livestock feed. Culverwell was convicted in the cases of three “mercy-killings,” as the defense called them, and one case where the defendant testified he ran over an elk after it charged his tractor.
 

JoseCuervo

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Get ready for a Tele-a-thon to help him pay his legal bills like the Hage's in NorNevada..... He will be over the $19k in legal fees long before he gets done with his appeals...
 

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