Margaret Culverwell reacts as her husband, Rodney, is convicted of 16 of 80 poaching charges that stem from a Colorado Division of Wildlife investigation this winter. His conviction includes four Class 5 felonies.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Margaret Culverwell reacts as her husband, Rodney, is convicted of 16 of 80 poaching charges that stem from a Colorado Division of Wildlife investigation this winter. His conviction includes four Class 5 felonies.

Culverwell convicted of 16 charges

Craig man found guilty of 4 Class 5 felonies; sentencing scheduled for Nov. 4

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Local rancher Rodney Culverwell sits with his defense attorney, Pamela Mackey, as Michael O'Hara, chief district court judge for the 14th Judicial District, reads the jury's verdict in his case. Culverwell was convicted of four Class 5 felonies and 12 misdemeanors out of 80 total charges.

— After almost nine hours of deliberation, Rodney Culverwell's jury found him guilty of 16 of 80 poaching charges filed against him April 1 by the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

Culverwell was convicted of four of 16 counts of willful destruction of big game, a Class 5 felony; four of 16 counts of illegal possession of wildlife, a misdemeanor; four of 16 counts of hunting without a license, a misdemeanor; four of 16 counts of hunting out of season; and none of 16 counts of waste of edible game meat.

His wife, Margaret, sobbed when the judge read the first guilty verdicts.

All charges leading to convictions related to the same four elk. Culverwell was acquitted on all counts relating to other elk in the case.

Culverwell's sentencing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Nov. 4. A possible sentence in the case can include jail time, fines, parole and hunting license suspensions.

More than 20 audience members watched court proceedings, when attorneys for both sides laid out the case as they saw it.

The prosecutor and the defense attorney had different plans for how Rodney Culverwell's jury should view the evidence.

"This is not a case between Mr. Culverwell and the Division of Wildlife," said Jeremy Snow, deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District, during closing arguments Friday. "This case is about whether he broke the laws of Colorado."

The jury should convict the defendant because he broke the law, he added, "and no man is above the law."

Pamela Mackey, Culverwell's defense attorney, agreed with Snow's last point, but she said it is a mischaracterization to say the DOW has no place in jury deliberations for several reasons.

First, a "sloppy" investigation by the DOW did not find evidence that proves Culverwell killed all 16 elk charged by the District Attorney's Office, Mackey said.

Second, testimony from ranchers proves many residents do not think the DOW will help them. This same belief, shared through experience, Mackey said, drove Culverwell to protect his property, himself and his family and put animals out of their misery through illegal means.

Prosecution spoke first

Throughout his closing argument, Snow said Culverwell did not make use of available legal means to solve his problems and that the defendant misrepresented his actions while testifying.

Culverwell admitted to killing six elk this winter. Of those, Culverwell testified he shot three because they were caught in his fence.

He said he couldn't pull his fences back up with their weight tangled in them and that he couldn't cut them loose alive because the elk would be dangerous.

There were other solutions besides shooting them right away, Snow said.

Receipts of fencing material purchases made by Culverwell and his wife, Margaret, on the same days Culverwell testified he shot the elk show he was gone from his ranch for at least two hours that day with the elk still tangled.

"That's a lot of time," Snow said. "There is no question (Culverwell) needed to repair that fence by that evening, certainly. But that day, before he left to buy his own (fencing materials), he could have simply walked over, called the DOW. He didn't give them that opportunity."

Nor did Culverwell attempt to stand on the other side of his fences, away from the elk stuck there, and cut them loose before killing them, Snow said.

He shot them "because it was convenient to him to protect his property that way," Snow told the jury. "He didn't want to call the DOW; he didn't want to have to deal with them; he wanted to do it his way."

For 10 other elk that Snow's office charged Culverwell with shooting, the deputy district attorney played back excerpts from a covert recording of a conversation between Culverwell and DOW Criminal Investigator Eric Schaller.

In the excerpt, Culverwell discusses three or four other elk in his stackyard that he may have killed. Snow pointed out carcass locations to the jury and said Culverwell's recorded descriptions matched the scene found by DOW investigators.

The other six or seven elk found on and near Culverwell's ranch were shot with a .17-caliber rifle, Snow said. Although the DOW did not find a second .17-caliber firearm on Culverwell's property, shell casings from two distinct .17-caliber weapons were found in his truck.

Snow said that made it clear the defendant had access to two weapons that match ballistics evidence from all elk Culverwell denied shooting.

The defense followed

The DOW's investigation has too many holes to convict, Mackey said.

For one, there is no ballistics evidence that links Culverwell to any bullet found except in the case of one elk, she said.

"They didn't (find that evidence), and because they didn't, they now ask you to guess, to infer, that Rodney Culverwell had another .17-caliber weapon that was used to kill other animals," Mackey said to the jury, referring to 10 elk Culverwell said he did not kill.

A ballistics expert testified there is no way to scientifically link shell casings to bullets. Mackey said this is another inference the prosecution was asking the jury to make.

The District Attorney's Office spent nearly four days proving those animals were shot, Mackey said, but they never addressed the question of who shot them.

"Was the question ever answered beyond a reasonable doubt?" she asked. "No."

The DOW could have searched Culverwell's home and discovered for certain there was no other weapon to be found, but they did not and said they didn't want to be "heavy-handed," Mackey said.

However, Mackey said, the DOW had no problem arriving at their home with hidden tape-recorders while 16 other officers searched their ranch without their knowledge.

"Don't let them get away with their sloppy gathering of evidence," Mackey said. "That's their job. They didn't do it."

On the charges involving the six elk Culverwell said he killed this winter, Mackey said testimony from almost every rancher who took the stand in the past two weeks proved the DOW is not a competent agency.

Therefore, she said, he was forced to take the law into his own hands, as the law allows.

"What I hope we have shown you is that many ranchers in your community, including Mr. Culverwell, do not believe the DOW will come help them," Mackey said. "This DOW that doesn't have the time or the materials to help ranchers."

She noted only the "respected, powerful and wealthy" Raftopoulos family were the only ranchers who testified on the DOW's behalf, a family that had every game damage claim paid in full this year and had DOW officials herd elk off their property, shoot wildlife and field dress the animals themselves.

Other ranchers testified the DOW was not nearly as helpful, Mackey said.

"You are allowed to do what it takes, in a reasonable and necessary way," she said, "to protect yourself and your property."

Comments

slipknot 6 years, 3 months ago

The jury did their job, now let's see if the judge has the balls to finish it the correct way. Lifetime suspension of hunting priviledges and once he's a felon he can no longer own or posess a firearm of any type. Besides all that has been said and done, he has lost all credibility he may have had, from here on out he will be suspect as a lier and only his closest friends family will still have any respect for him. I actually have simpathy for him and his family for what they must now face, if they face it together providing they don't consider him a throw away.

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misterkindbuds 6 years, 3 months ago

LOL!!!

Only in Craig do you see such high-profile coverage of a serial elk murderer!

lol

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jimweis 6 years, 3 months ago

all right ,way to go d.o.w.,put a man in prision, ruin his family,waste alot of taxpayer money,we live in america,we were born with the right to protect our items of nessisity,oh,almost forgot, how over populated is our heard this year,,how many are left? ? just a reminder to you sportsmen,they are guning for you too.. althougt protecting your farm is alot more important.,then some piece of paper that says you can shoot some animals.i fell bad about what i see here,,i guess my suspoicion of big brother deserves more attention. this kind of nonsense should not happen, the bad part is you or I are next, someday.for some stupid "reason"

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irishbrat 6 years, 3 months ago

Get on the other side of the fence???? OMG...that's hilarious. I think I'd like to see Mr. Snow wade through some SNOW and cut an elk or deer out of the "other" side of the fence. I'm no wildlife expert but i've lived here my whole life and I know you can't approach a tangled deer or elk...doesn't matter which side of the fence you're on, you are going to get the sh*t kicked out of you. hahaha...

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hunter 6 years, 3 months ago

Well as stated the jury did thier job. Now lets hope the judge steps up and takes this case serious. The man had no right doing what he did. It does not matter how you cut it, if you break teh law as he did you deserve the punishment. Does not matter why you broke it. He knowingly and purposefully broke the law.

ON the idea of cutting an elk out of the fence. It can be done and the vast majority of the time with ease. Over the years I have cut (actually only had to cut once) about 3 elk out the fence and about twice as many deer and antelope. It can be done. Is it a little scary? Yes, but not nearly as dangerous as a person might think. So far his stupid above the law attitude has cost him way more money than the elk ever dreamed of. It will hopefully cost him even more.

I lost my respect for both him and his wife some time ago. this just proves that it was well deserved and should remain lost.

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irishbrat 6 years, 3 months ago

Yeah...i guess by the time they are half dead & starved then they might not kick you.

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oldsage 6 years, 3 months ago

The lesson here is...

DON'T TALK TO THE POLICE, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY SAY THEY WANT TO HELP YOU!

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oldsage 6 years, 3 months ago

As long as I have been around I have seen some very interesting things, one of which is that in the 14th Judicial District and Moffat County Court that justice is spelled more like Just-Us and that it is OK for the "Enforcers" to lie to the public like in this case the guy said he was there to reach out to ranchers. Yea, they get to lie and you have respect for them and at the same time disrespect Culverwell and call him a liar with no credibility. Maybe you can explain to me and the rest of the world why it is this double standard not only exists in your mind(s) and justify it! If the police are allowed to lie, and it is policy for them to do so, how can you then believe what they say in court?

It all comes down to the Veracity of the Officer, and since we know they are allowed to lie as a matter of policy as a condition of their employment. It is a fact, they get to lie and John Q. Citizen doesn't.

The way I see it, a person who lies as a tool in the course of their employment has an added problem because as everyone knows that when a person lies, each successive lie becomes easier to commit and thus over time there is a blurring of the line as to when it is "appropriate" to use the "Tool" and thus these individuals should have no more credibility than anyone else maybe even less. I sure as hell would not want to be married to a professional liar, would you?

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allen13 6 years, 3 months ago

Oh, I'm sure if you ask a criminal if they broke the law, they are going to come right out and say, Yes, I did it. Get real. So I guess for law enforcement to get to the bottom of things, they might have to lie a little to get confessions. Law enforcement is doing their jobs by bringing criminals to justice. I'm sure when they asked OJ if he killed Nichole, he said no. I'm sure all those drug dealers try to say the drugs the cops found are not really theirs. Just like Rodney claiming to not have killed all those elk. Lie lie lie. Whatever. I hope Judge O'Hara gives him the max. You people loose track of the issue - it was not about protecting property, which you do have the right to do. It was about poaching and willfull destruction of wildlife. At least Wolgram nutted up.

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allen13 6 years, 3 months ago

Getagrip - you otta get a grip. I don't need to cry in the corner, because I'm laughing out loud.

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Joanna Hatten 6 years, 3 months ago

allen13...."nutted up"??!???! are you serious? with a statement like "nutted up" no one is going to take you serious anyway. Go put on your big boy pants and cry in a corner.

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buck523 6 years, 3 months ago

I know of a few ranchers who asked for kill permits and they were denied. I wouldn't count on that option.

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50cal 6 years, 3 months ago

this is a victory for the DOW plain and simple and no more or less. They are already the most powerful law enforcement agency in the state. Now they have gained more power. I have heard in here about how Rodney has done this for years and people "know" this has happened before. Really? where the hell were you when it was going on then? Did you just stand around and let a crime be commissioned? I believe it is against the law to witness a crime be committed and not report it! must be a lot of criminals here since all of you know this was going on and did nothing to stop it. Maybe the D.A. should bring up more charges. Or are you just talking a lot of crap because Rodney has over 20,000 acres and you don't . Oh I'm a small rancher. Oh I don't get treated the same. Really? Do you know where the DOW was when this was happening? I can tell you exactly where. They were on a 35 acre "ranch" north of Craig fencing in a feed lot for some sheep "rancher". So someone who's life depends on his ability to actually ranch is cast off to the side so the little hobby rancher can get theirs fenced? Give me a break. That's another thing you want to complain about the taxpayers money funding the DOW? It doesn't The DOW is the only state agency who is NOT funded by taxpayers money. They are funded by licence sales. So Rodney leased his ground out to an outfitter and got 80,000 for it, god it must be killing you huh? So that must mean that Rodney has supported more Dow projects than you have since his outfitter has brought in hunters who pay $450.00 per elk license and you don't. Heres some news for you! Its his ground! hes the property owner. Now your ground is less secure because of the outcome of this case. Whether you like Rodney or not.

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Tencman 6 years, 3 months ago

If the DOW does operate on funds from hunting licenses, isn't it possible to view them as a business as well? A business with their own responsibilities? A legal matter I am sure.

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John_Doe 6 years, 3 months ago

In response to 50cal...I was screaming as loudly as I could when these crimes were taking place. I filed an official report in October of 1996 with the Meeker branch of DOW. I informed many local agencies of what was happening, but in each case the reports were ignored. So what is the use of trying to help when the agencies that are supposed to assist you don't respond. I described in detail what was happening and at that time it was only taking place for entertainment. It's unfortunate that there are so many deaf people....a lot of this could have been prevented. I feel badly for the ranchers who respect the law, but feel they are running out of options.

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John_Doe 6 years, 3 months ago

One more thing....if DOW would have been the ones on trial I would have stood up with this information. It was wrong that nothing came of it. That is their job!

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allen13 6 years, 3 months ago

My land is no more less secure now because of the outcome of this trial. I still have the right to protect my property - say if my cows are gored by a bull elk, I'd shoot the elk. But, I would not shoot elk out of entertainment and BS sense of morals and values. How much land I have or don't have is not an issue. If DOW was on trial, there would be plenty of things I'd bring to the table of what they do wrong. One would be to take away ranching for wildlife. It's a crock. You big ranchers cry that there are so many elk, deer, antelope on your property causing damage. Then you want money from the government to pay for it. Then you want to collect hundreds and thousands of dollars for tresspass fees to hunt to get rid of those animals you don't want on your property. Well, there are a lot of us sick of you guys crying about it. You want your cake and eat it too. But, DOW was not on trial. Do you understand that? Rodney was, for POACHING, and he did just that. It was not about protecting his property. Do you undertand that?

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50cal 6 years, 3 months ago

john doe one out of many here that have claimed they knew he was committing these crimes. I will commend you on that. If anyone believes that the DOW will not be emboldened by this trial then you need to look at the laws as they already sit for search and seizure as they pertain to the DOW in the state of Colorado. So if a bull elk gores a cow of yours and you shoot it are you going to report it to the DOW? We will be reading about your trial next if that's the case. If you see a deer or elk in the ditch next to a roadway that has been hit by a car but still alive are you going to shoot it? I will agree on the ranching for wildlife issue IE poaching for wildlife. I hate this program. Six big time ranchers have every bit of land in a strip of land from the forest service boundary to the sage brush flats tied up that they and no one else gets to hunt. They can keep pressure off the animals while they are being hunted from above and below, take out their select few and hunt as they see fit. This is a main reason the herd population has exploded. If I remember correctly Rodney was not on trial for the past poaching of elk but for this winter. he was convicted of shooting elk in his hay pens and tried for shooting elk on his feed lots. Do you understand? the DOW started an illegal search of his property before serving the search warrant. Do you understand? they had a agent go in under false pretenses to distract the homeowners while conducting a illegal search. Do you understand? Maybe they should be under an investigation and on trial. As for me being a big time rancher, I own ten friggen acres so yeah that puts me right up there with the lot of a holes that screw everything up for the little guy like you. You really think for one minute that cases like this don't set a precedence for the next time the DOW wants to enact laws that grant them more power? fool yourself, I won't be.

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allen13 6 years, 3 months ago

Rodney did not get convicted of the elk he killed protecting his property. Do you understand? He was convicted (by his own mouth admitting he killed them) for the 2 calves, and the 2 bulls he killed illegally - one of them he ran over with the tractor. Do you understand? No matter how you slice it, that is not protecting your property. He got away with all the other elk he killed, and the ones he killed with the .17. Who by the way, kills an elk with a .17 humanely? He should feel lucky that he got away with more than he should've. And yes, if a bull elk gored my cows and I killed it, I would be protecting my property and would not hesitate to call DOW and request that they come out so I could show them the injured cow and the destroyed elk. Yes, I do understand that Rodney was not on trial for all the willful destruction of wildlife and poaching he has done in the past. But indeed it shows his true character and that while trying to portray in court that he was just trying to project his property and put elk out of the misery - is a bunch of BS. There are lots of people in town who know his wrong doings as fact, yes fact, and not just a bunch of crap talk. I had hoped that Snow would follow through with his investigation and get the right people on the stand. I would guess that since this is in the open now, more people will be welling to step forward and bring things to the authorities in the future. Many didn't before because it fell on def ears, and was over looked, or they were protecting someone else. If Rodney decides to appeal, a whole other can of worms could be opened for him. And I do understand how DOW handled their investigation. Law enforcement will use tactics such as lying and false pretenses - we wouldn't have a justice system without it if you really think about it. Criminals don't admit to their crimes. But I also know that in a specific case I know of, evidence was manufactured against someone, which was totally wrong. But the person was in fact guilty of the crime and paid for his mistake. Bottom line, Rodney was convicted by a jury of his peers, ranchers included. I commend them.

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50cal 6 years, 3 months ago

you call the DOW and they will turn their investigation over to the DA and you will be looked at hard. then they will determine if you are guilty or not. you are a resident of moffat county and will be brought up on charges. Unless you are a illegal selling meth you will not get away with it. Do you honestly believe if a bull elk had enough in him to charge a tractor he didn't have enough in him to chase off cows or hurt someone if they were out of the tractor. Your letting your hatred of Rodney overrule your judgement. If he had been convicted when all these concerned citizens were reporting him to the authorities for going around and using animals for target practice. I would have been there with the shovel to put him under the jail. But you want to talk about the good ol boy system? you were a bunch of good ol boys when he was out driving the roads drunk and shooting everything in site right? wouldn't report that right? sat on your hands and kept your oh so loud mouth shut right? I have seen in here at least five people who say they knew Rodney was doing this. shame on you and the rest of them. your cruel you must think its OK for deer and elk to be used as target practice as long as it was one of your good ol boys out there with Rodney. When its just him your so ready to speak out right? This will weaken everyone's right to self control over their own property. if a .17 cal is all you have when you see a animal in misery then a quick shot to the head would solve the problem yes. it wouldn't be my first choice as I'm sure it wouldn't be most peoples which means that he probably was carrying it to shoot smaller creatures like fox or coyote. unless you believe you need a 375 H&H mag for them too. I'm not sticking up for Rodney, as I've said if he used deer and elk as target practice then I would be there standing with you to see that he got what he had coming to him. On that same note if you ever defend your property or what you conceive to be defending your property against a elk or anything else and a government agency who you asked for help wouldn't do anything to help I will be right there with you standing up for your rights as well. Don't you ever forget that.

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slipknot 6 years, 3 months ago

Y'all are getting pretty verbose. It all boils down to a couple of very short quick points. DOW investigators, or any law enforcement type, can lie, steal, cheat, or do whatever they think is necessary at the time, short of actually violating your constitional rights if they think they might get caught doing it, to get you to admit to a crime. They don't even have to identify themselves, or tell you that they are recording your conversation, if they have reasonable suspicion, that you may have committed a crime. Anything that might make you a person of interest would include a part of carcass that Rover drug home or some clown from town decided to throw out after boning all the usable meat from. We all know that's not what happened in Rodney's case.
Myself, during the third rifIe season 2005, witnessed 3 vehicles from Texas, party hunting, and shooting from moving vehicles on the main road on top of Duffy Mtn. I used a cell phone, called the Meeker DOW gave them vehicle license numbers, the number of occupants, and rough descriptions of occupants, and DOW was more interested in me than in the actual violators. I was hunting in 211 for a particular buck that I had spotted earlier in the year. These guys were killing anything that moved, taking shots that were impossible out to 800 or 1000 yards, does, fawns, small bucks, rabbits, even sage hens. Yet DOW never showed. I waited for 4 days for my shot and never once seen DOW. It made me sick, so what's a guy gonna do. On one hand I feel for Rodney, on the other. . . I know a good part of your economy depends on the non-resident hunting seasons but, myself, I'd just as soon see them limited by draw only and and any non-resident permit holder would require a guide/outfitter, a Colorado Hunters Safety Permit renewable every 5 years and limit their weapon caliber to nothing larger than 7mm.RemMag. thus discouraging them from launching bullets at impossible distances. I know there are some that can make that shot. But, there are more who think they can, thus the Hunters Safety Class. If you want to hunt here, learn to hunt here responsibly. I think the residents can curtail the problem that Rodney has, being overrun with elk. If the responsible landowners would let the meathunters fill our freezers. I also known that's not possible, the economy, such as it is, will not allow it, and I also remember a conversation I had with an outfitter several years ago who would rather guide for bull elk, legal or illegal, than sxxxw, as long as the money was right. My final word on the subject, well almost, DOW needs work, Rodney is a piece of work, I enjoy shooting several calibers, from .40S&W to .50Barrett and I can make that shot but not at living targets larger than prairie pooches.

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slipknot 6 years, 3 months ago

Very interesting story in Grand Juction Daily Sentinel for Friday September 12, 2008. The article is carried by the AP and regards the 32 'bison' that were killed near Fairplay, CO. A software executive who owns a luxury home near Fairplay warned his neighbor, a bison rancher, to keep his stock from roaming onto his (the executives) property, or he would risk having them hunted. The executive, a permanent resident of Austin, Tx., sued his neighbor alleging the bison had turned his land in South Park into a 'feed lot'. Some time later 14 hunters from southern Colorado had a letter from the Exec. giving them permission to hunt bison on his property. Now the exec. is in criminal court charged with 32 counts of aggravated animal cruelty, and theft. The case has split Fairplay and drawn attention to Colorado's 'open range' laws and the local politics of fencing. Now here's the real interesting part. The exec. is being represented by Pamela Mackey, yeah, none other than Rodney's esteemed attorney. For some reason I find a lot of similaritys between these two cases, mainly because I've followed both of them from the start and in the South Park case DOW bowed out early and turned the main prosecution over to the local sheriff. They assisted when asked but realized that the bison were domestic stock, and slunk out of sight. Although to begin with they were all over it like lies on a politician. and then quietly disapperated. (It means disappeared) It will be interesting to see how Ms. Mackey does in this one.

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