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Men accused of illegal wildlife killing accept plea agreement

The Stark County District Court was notified Monday that four men accused of illegal wildlife killing had accepted plea agreements in the case.

John Koester, 20, of Sentinel Butte plead guilty to 12 counts of hunting big game out of season and 12 counts of taking big game with artificial light, both Class A misdemeanors, Stark County State's Attorney Tom Henning said.

Koester was sentenced to 180 days in prison, with 175 suspended for two years, fined $15,000 with $13,375 suspended for two years and charged with $6,000 in restitution and $325 in court fees, Henning said.

The restitution will be paid to the North Dakota branch of the Report All Poaching programs and the Mule Deer Foundation.

Koester will also lose hunting and fishing privileges for ten years and be placed on unsupervised probation.

The loss of hunting privileges could be reduced by one year if he attends a second hunter education course.

The four men were charged with 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.

Henning said all four men received similar sentences to degrees proportionate to their involvement in the crimes.

"They're all going to see some jail time," Henning said.

All of the settlements have not been filed with the District Court's office, but notification has been received from the attorneys for Billy Buckman, 22, and Jaden Adams, 21, both of Belfield and Shawn Hiller, 23, of Medora. Details of which will be available once they are filed with the court's office.

"They are going to be written pleas," Henning said, adding, "Most of the time got suspended with relatively large fines and or fees.

"None of these guys had a record so it was kind of like, 'Well what do you do?' The periods of incarceration here are greater than we see on most first offenders."

A fifth individual, 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.

As of August 1, following the passage of House Bill 1188 during the last legislative session, the volume of the counts against Koester and the others could have changed the charges from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony.

The bill states any individual who commits five or more wildlife related Class A misdemeanors in a two year period will be charged with a Class C felony.

The punishment for a Class C felony is a maximum of five year imprisonment, a fine of $10,000 or both.