Rodney Culverwell responds to questions Wednesday morning from Jeremy Snow, deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office, during cross-examination. Culverwell is on trial for charges of poaching elk.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Rodney Culverwell responds to questions Wednesday morning from Jeremy Snow, deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office, during cross-examination. Culverwell is on trial for charges of poaching elk.

Culverwell sentenced to 60 days in jail

$16K in fines and community service also levied


At a glance

• Rodney Culverwell, 41, was sentenced Tuesday to 60 days in Moffat County Jail, $16,440 in fines and fees, 196 days of community service and two years' probation.

• He was convicted by a jury in September for illegally killing four elk on his property last winter, which amounted to the following 15 charges:

- four counts of willful destruction of big game, a class 5 felony

- four counts of illegal possession of wildlife, a misdemeanor

- three counts of hunting without a license, a misdemeanor

- four counts of hunting out of season, a misdemeanor.

• The judge dismissed sentences for the 11 misdemeanor convictions on the basis that Culverwell only committed one unlawful act in the death of each elk.

Rodney Culverwell, a 41-year-old Moffat County rancher, was sentenced Tuesday 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 Culverwell'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 expressed 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."

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or


buck523 8 years, 5 months ago

Well luckily calving season does not start until spring. You got lucky and only have 60 days. You might want to get started so you will be out by spring. Also, it will be hilarious if you appeal and get a new trial and get a longer sentence. How about leaving the elk alone this winter?


buck523 8 years, 5 months ago

If he would have exhausted all avenues with the DOW, I could better understand what he did. Personally, from what we are seeing during the hunting seasons so far (deer), I'm hoping they cut the deer tags way down next year.


lostyermarbles 8 years, 5 months ago

Better read closer, he get's to stay home on work release on his ranch for the 60 day's. He won't eat any prison meal's probably. Big deal huh?? A slap on the hand is all...Figure's....I hope the elk don't scare him this winter...


dogfan 8 years, 5 months ago

Don't condone what he did, but do feel the rancher's have the right to protect their livelihood. Maybe the DOW should look at their figures a little closer when it comes time to issue tags for hunting.


Globe 8 years, 5 months ago

I don't feel sympathy for many of the ranchers. They want to charge $1,000+ tresspass fees to take an elk on thier land. Few if any locals are dump enough to pay that kind of fee, so the elk go on munching their forage. I am willing to bet if the tresspass fee was reasonable ($100-$200) he would have lots of guys out their thinning the herd in his area. To many ranchers want a big payday for every elk on thier property and then they want the DOW to pay them for the grass they eat. I say if DOW gives you a dime (or chases them off your land) then you are not allowed to charge a tresspass fee. If you charge a tresspass fee then the DOW doesn't owe you a anything.


als362 8 years, 5 months ago

I agree with Globe. Nobody held a gun to Culverwells head and told him he had to be a rancher. This was his choice. Just as it is my choice to work where I work. Both choices have inherent dangers, risks and rewards. If ranchers would allow people to hunt on their land for free, they would not have as many problems with game damage. Anyone that earned $40,000.00 to $80,000.00 from trespass fees as he did has no right to complain about a few bales of hay. Especially after the Elk handed him that much money by just being there. I have no sympathy for this person, and would have sentenced him to several years in jail for what he did, had I been the judge.


grannyrett 8 years, 5 months ago

No matter whether we agree or not, it's over. At long last, it's over. Unless he appeals. Did it end right? Do I agree with the sentence? It really doesn't matter. What's done is done. Right or wrong, a sad chapter is Moffat County is over.


lostyermarbles 8 years, 5 months ago

Well I am not seeing the appeal here after this story altho it was in the paper. This appeal to me show's how arrogant and immoral he is. he doesnt seem to think anything he did was wrong. Out of a 100 and somethin he got a few charges. He is lucky. It seems he is a bit phycotic. Has he been to a shrink or anything for anget management for any future temper tantrums??


lostyermarbles 8 years, 5 months ago

and.....if he get's away with this does this mean that anyone that has those munchers out in the yard that can't get the DOW on the line in a designated time can blast em?? I don't think so. But this will set a presidance for everyone. I hope his lawyer bill far exceeds his fines.


taxslave 8 years, 5 months ago

Perfect people throwing stones.....shame on you. The Lord said, "He without sin.....

Is that you?


grannyrett 8 years, 5 months ago

tax-No, we are not without sin. We are merely voicing our opinion on what we see as wrong. You do it all the time. Who are you to put us down while you go on and on about the evil this government is becoming?


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