Jun 23, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterFour defendants on pleaded guilty Friday to three of seven charges for poaching the four moose killed near Hudson in October.
The incident, which was termed "a slaughter" by the presiding judge during the hearing, sparked outrage among residents who noted that moose only recently had repopulated the area around Hudson after years of absence.
In Riverton Circuit court, Wyoming 9th Judicial District judge Wesley A. Roberts accepted plea agreements dropping the four other counts.
"This was completely lacking in any modicum of sportsmanship, fair chase and ethics in hunting ...
"This was a slaughter and nothing more," Roberts said.
"What a prized possession you've taken away from the citizens of Wyoming, the United States and, frankly, the world."
Sammy Edlund, 30, of Gillette; Danielle Najera, 28, of Gillette; Phillip "P.J." Warren, 31, of Arapahoe; and Phillip "Rocky" Hurtado, 73, of Arapahoe, pleaded guilty to taking an antlered moose without a license in an area with no season, wanton destruction of a big game animal and entering enclosed property without permission.
Their plea agreements stipulate each will pay $7,500 in restitution and face two years of unsupervised probation.
Warren will spend nine days in prison and the others seven.
All have 360-day jail sentences, the remainder of which are suspended in favor of probation, as were $20,000 in further fines for each.
If one of the defendants violates probation, including failing to pay the $7,500 restitution, the person will face the rest of the year in prison and have to pay $20,000.
The court also revoked Edlund's hunting privileges in Wyoming for 20 years and those of Warren,Najera and Hurtado for life.
Roberts said he would further prohibit them from going afield with weapons or participating in hunts unarmed. The judge said he could not, however, limit their ability to hunt on the Wind River Indian Reservation, which Hurtado and Warren had said they do.
Under the seven original charges, the defendants each faced maximum penalties of four and one half years in prison and $43,000 in fines.
"I have some qualms about accepting the plea agreement but not so much that I wouldn't agree to it," Roberts said.
"It has all the components we look for in a plea agreement -- accountability, payment of restitution, and there is some real bite."
In testimony, the defendants described the killing similarly. They were hunting together because Hurtado is Najera's and Warren's grandfather, and Najera and Edlund are engaged.
All agreed that in the evening of Oct. 15, Warren, Najera and Edlund stood on a bluff overlooking the Popo Agie river bottom south of Arapahoe School in what several called the White Hills area.
Fremont County deputy attorney Ember Oakley said where the shooters stood and where the animals fell was the Majdic family's land.
Documents state it is private, fee titled deeded land within the exterior boundaries of the Wind River Indian reservation
Hurtado crossed the river and entered a copse of trees to flush game.
"I don't care, shoot anything that comes out,'" Hurtado said he told the others. "But we didn't know there were moose down there."
Hurtado was moving through a stand of willows when he saw a "tannish, brown" animal.
"I shot at whatever it was," he told the court.
From their vantage, the other three saw two bull moose and a cow run out of the trees.
"I opened fire," Warren said. "When I shot I did see one of the bulls dropped."
Najera said she focused the sight of her 300 Winchester magnum rifle on a cow and brought it down. She also shot at the bulls.
Edlund said he shot at a bull and a cow but did not know if he hit either.
When Hurtado came out of the trees he saw on bull on its haunches, he said. He shot it and brought it down.
The group found the two fallen bulls in a pasture area and saw one cow lying dead in the river. All said they did not know what happened to the other female.
Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife investigator Scott Browning told the court the fourth moose had crossed the river before dying on the other side.
Dusk was coming on and no one had flashlights or tools to cut bone, but the poachers gutted the two bulls before it got too dark. They left all four carcasses where they were, however, and headed for home, saying they intended to return the next day.
Warren said they went back the next morning but saw vehicles in the area and thought there may be trouble, so they left.
Oakley said experts told her the carcasses probably spoiled over night and that without flashlights or proper tools for dressing, the poachers could not have expected to harvest the animals properly.
"There are so many appalling angles to this case," she said. "Purposely trespassing, senseless killing, followed by senseless waste."
Some defendants said they thought they were actions were legal at the time.
Edlund said they thought they were on the Wind River Indian Reservation and were helping Hurtado fill hunting tags.
"We knew in state you couldn't hunt on other people's tags, but on the reservation we thought it was different," Edlund said. "I asked Rocky (when they were gutting) if he had tags for them, he said 'no.'"
All the defendants are experienced hunters and should have known they did not have the right to kill four moose, Oakley said.
"There are four total moose tags on the reservation for each tribe," she said. "They absolutely knew they didn't have one moose tag, certainly not four."
"There's no signs up, the fences are down, so you can't tell what's reservation or not," Najera said.
The four didn't look to see if they had hunted on private property or not until the next day, Nejara said, when they returned to the scene.
Oakley said a strong fence divides the Majdic's land from the reservation area, and the poachers had to drive through a gate to go where they did.
Two defendants apologized.
"I feel really, really horrible for what I've done," Nejara said. "The opportunities I've taken away from a lot of well deserved people -- I'm willing to face whatever you hand down to me."
Warren said he thinks about the events every day.
"I've lost friends, I've been threatened, I am really really truly sorry," he said. "I think what really hurts is how my family looks at me know."
Though Hurtado did not say how he felt, Roberts thought the case affected the man.
"I think he's going through a lot of pain for what Danielle and P.J. are going through," Roberts said.
Edlund declined to speak, but his attorney, Sky Phifer, said his client feels ashamed and cooperated with the investigation. Phifer noted not being able to hunt or teach his sons to hunt will hurt.
"The 20 years he's going to go without hunting privileges will hammer him hard," Phifer said.
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