A criminal case against a Moffat County rancher charged with poaching elk on his property this winter continues today in Moffat County District Court.
Rodney Culverwell, 41, is charged with 80 wildlife crimes, including 16 Class 5 felonies and 64 misdemeanors. His sentence could include jail time, parole, fines and hunting license suspensions.
Jeremy Snow, deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office, said he could rest the state's case this afternoon and turn over testimony to the defense.
Possible witnesses for the prosecution include DOW officials and residents Tom Mikesell and Chris Jurney.
All but one witness for the prosecution thus far have been DOW officials.
Pamela Mackey, Culverwell's defense attorney, appeared as animated as she ever has this past week after a recount of the Colorado Division of Wildlife's search of her client's ranch Feb. 22.
Mackey has said her client killed "some" elk this winter because the DOW did not help him fend off wildlife that ate hay and destroyed property.
The 16 elk Culverwell is charged with poaching were seized during a DOW search of Culverwell's Rio Ro Mo Ranch on Feb. 22, the same day DOW Criminal Investigator Eric Schaller testified he knocked on Culverwell's door to speak about "game damage issues."
How Schaller introduced himself and when he decided to serve the DOW's search warrant were central questions in Mackey's cross-examination Friday as she alluded to possible improprieties in the investigation.
An hour-and-15-minute-long recording of Schaller's conversation with Culverwell and his wife, Margaret, showed the DOW investigator did not present his agency's search warrant until Culverwell resisted providing a rifle he owned, about halfway through the tape.
After questions from Mackey, Schaller said he waited because he wanted to build a "rapport" with the Culverwells because he knew some Moffat County ranchers have a "strained" relationship with the DOW.
Schaller's testimony described an investigation that wasn't always necessarily leading to criminal charges.
He told Mackey the DOW did not seek a third search warrant to search the Culverwells' home because the agency did not want to be insensitive to the ranchers. A warrant to search their home could have taken until midnight that day to be approved, and in that time the Culverwells would not be allowed to re-enter their house.
"If we had decided to be heavy-handed and do whatever we wanted regardless of what the Culverwells wanted, then yes, we could have done that," Schaller said. "We did not want to be heavy-handed with them. : Once this is said and done, Rodney Culverwell is still a rancher in Moffat County, and you can't just write that off because of a single incident."
More of Mackey's questions focused on when Schaller presented the search warrant. Mackey asked if the investigator's initial introduction to the Culverwells - to speak about game damage issues - was a "rouse" to trick the couple into confessing.
"No, I was there because I knew the Culverwells had problems with game damage issues," Schaller said. "I knew that there were animals that were dead and that there could be a criminal investigation. That was certainly part of why I was there, yes."
When Schaller showed the Culverwells the DOW's search warrant, he said there were other DOW officials already on the property around the hay stackyard alongside U.S. Highway 40.
Schaller testified he did not know when other DOW agents began searching and seizing items on the Culverwells' property, whether it was specifically before or after he made notice of the warrant.