Men accused of shining, shooting
Four men have until Monday to accept a plea agreement or go to trial in a case which North Dakota wildlife officials have deemed the worse case of illegal wildlife killing they have ever seen.
Southwest District Judge William Herauf agreed to allow counsel to discuss possible plea agreements with their clients, Billy Buckman, 22, and Jaden Adams, 21, both of Belfield; Shawn Hiller, 23, of Medora; and John Koester, 20, of Sentinel Butte, during a pretrial hearing Tuesday at the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson. The four men are accused of shooting more than 40 deer and antelope and hundreds of porcupines, rabbits and coyotes in Billings and Golden Valley counties in July and August 2007.
Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning said it isn't uncommon for an extension to be asked for in regards to plea agreements.
"It's kind of the nature of the business," Henning said. "Until it looms in your face, you don't jump right at it."
The men's counsel have until 5 p.m. Monday to accept a plea agreement or the matter will go to trial, Herauf said.
Henning, who is prosecuting the case because Billings County State's Attorney Jay Brovold recused himself due to a possible conflict of interest, said he feels the state has a strong case.
"By in large these young men confessed to their involvement and their participation," Henning said, adding the North Dakota Game and Fish Department also gathered a large amount of evidence, including a number of animal carcasses.
The animals were killed during a night "shining" operations, in which animals are frozen in their tracks by bright lights and then shot. The carcasses were left behind, said NDGF outreach biologist Pat Lothspeich (a former Belfield game warden), according to a May report.
The charges include counts of hunting big game out of season and taking big game with artificial lights, which are Class A misdemeanors and carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Also, hunting from a motor vehicle, a Class B misdemeanor, with a maximum 30 days in jail and $1,000 fine.
The men have no criminal history so they likely won't be looking at the maximum but they also won't get minimums, Henning said, adding the number of animals and the number of times the activities took place will play a role in any sentencing that might take place.
If any decide on a plea agreement they can do so in writing. If not, they go to trial, though a trial date is undetermined.
A fifth accused, Chris Calentine, 21, formerly of Medora and now assumed to have returned to his home state of Montana, has yet to be located and warrants are out for his arrest, Southwestern District Game Warden Supervisor Dan Hoenke said.
The four could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday.