Closing arguments begin today in poaching trial

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Trial at a glance

• Moffat County rancher Rodney Culverwell, 41, is charged with 80 poaching crimes for allegedly killing 16 elk this winter, including 16 Class 5 felonies and 64 misdemeanors.

• His defense attorney said Culverwell acted in defense of his property because the elk continually destroyed hay and fencing this winter.

• The 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office maintains Culverwell did not exhaust legal remedies before shooting elk.

• Jury instructions and closing arguments happen today.

Day eight in the trial of a Moffat County rancher accused of poaching wildlife on his property ended Thursday with the defense and prosecution resting, setting the stage for jury instructions and closing arguments today.

Rodney Culverwell, 41, is charged in Moffat County District Court with 80 poaching crimes, including 16 Class 5 felonies, stemming from the deaths of 16 elk found on or near his property in February.

Culverwell contends he was protecting his property because the animals continually destroyed hay and fencing.

The defense, led by Culverwell attorney Pamela Mackey, closed its case in the morning session, and Jeremy Snow, 14th Judicial District deputy district attorney, ended rebuttal evidence Thursday night.

Michael O'Hara, 14th Judicial District chief judge, told jurors they would receive instructions and begin hearing closing arguments when court resumes today.

The defense's morning witnesses included three long-time Moffat County ranchers, who testified to an increasing number of elk on their properties, difficulties the animals have caused and problems with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

"When I started ranching in 1962, there were very few elk," said Jake Hamill, a Hamilton rancher. He added, "They're there to get everything before my livestock."

He said the problem has escalated to the point where he's had to ship 400 cattle to Oklahoma because of a lack of feed.

In 2003, he and other area ranchers sent a letter to then-governor Bill Owens and other state officials seeking changes. Hamill also said he has attended DOW meetings seeking public comment.

"I feel like it's more of a pacifying meeting, not to resolve any particular issues," the rancher said. He added, "Therefore, nothing has been resolved."

John Brannan, a Moffat County rancher since 1972, said elk have been causing problems on his property since 1973-74. He said fencing hasn't stemmed the problem.

"They tear it down faster than I could put it up," Brannan said. He also questioned the truthfulness and response time of DOW officers he's contacted about wildlife issues.

Daryl Steele, a Maybell rancher since 1968 and a former Moffat County commissioner, said elk have increased in numbers and have eaten his hay and attacked his cattle. The DOW didn't follow his request to get the animals off feeding grounds by using a baiting operation, Steele said.

Snow called a pair of ranchers in the afternoon, as part of rebuttal evidence.

John Raftopoulos, a Moffat County cattle and sheep rancher since 1978, testified that the DOW has responded to his issues in a timely manner, and followed his suggestions for wildlife management improvements.

He said the DOW has been more credible and responsive in the last decade or so, and that older ranchers may have animosity toward the agency from past years.

His brother, Steve Raftopoulos, who works the same operation as his brother, said he was satisfied with the agency's response last year to inspect game damage and his subsequent claim for game damage reimbursement.

The prosecution also called DOW officers to the stand during rebuttal, who defended the agency's response to calls for service and outlined steps by which it aids ranchers.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 8:45 a.m. today.

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 875-1791, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

Comments

wyodolly 5 years, 11 months ago

How big are the Raftopoulos' bear damage checks that they receive from the DOW? Maybe that is why they are willing to say they are satisfied with the DOW. How about all of the other local ranchers? Why not call a good number of them and take a census?

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