Pamela Mackey, right, listens to the reading of Rodney Culverwell's verdict about 10:15 p.m. Friday. She said it is a positive sign for ranchers that her client was not convicted of shooting any elk stuck in his hay fences, but she also was saddened for Culverwell's future.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Pamela Mackey, right, listens to the reading of Rodney Culverwell's verdict about 10:15 p.m. Friday. She said it is a positive sign for ranchers that her client was not convicted of shooting any elk stuck in his hay fences, but she also was saddened for Culverwell's future.

Culverwell defense speaks after case

Convictions not for elk shot in property defense

Pamela Mackey saw a measure of victory in her client's mixed verdict late Friday night.

Since Aug. 25, Mackey has represented local rancher Rodney Culverwell, 41, in Moffat County District Court against 80 poaching-related charges, including 16 class 5 felonies and 64 misdemeanors.

A seven-man, seven-woman jury of Moffat County residents convicted Culverwell on 16 charges Friday, after deliberating for nine hours about the two weeks worth of evidence presented at trial.

Culverwell was convicted of four counts each of the following charges: willfull destruction of big game, a class 5 felony; illegal possession of wildlife, a misdemeanor; hunting without a license, a misdemeanor; and hunting out of season, a misdemeanor.

He was acquitted of all 16 waste of edible game meat charges.

All convictions were related to the deaths of four specific elk found on Culverwell's ranch this winter by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

None of the convictions, however, were related to any elk Culverwell testified he shot in defense of his property, Mackey said. Defense of property was a key argument used by Mackey, which often called into question the effectiveness of DOW programs designed to help ranchers and other landowners.

"I think that what was really affirming for Rodney and his family was that all the elk Rodney testified he killed in defense of himself and defense of property, he was acquitted on," Mackey said. "The jury rejected the notion that a rancher that tries to protect his livelihood should be labeled a criminal.

"The reason Rodney went to trial was to defend those constitutional principles."

The convictions

Of the four elk Culverwell was convicted of illegally taking, two were found inside his hay stackyards.

Culverwell denied shooting one of those but said he dragged the body to a fence line and piled it on top of two other elk he shot because the elk was in the way of his tractor.

The other one was a calf Culverwell said he shot accidentally while aiming for an elk that had torn out a fence corner. The prosecution stated during closing that Culverwell's testimony of shooting the calf twice - once by accident and once to put it out of its misery - didn't match physical evidence of three bullet wounds from two different guns.

Culverwell was convicted of killing two more elk that weren't found inside hay pens. One was a calf Culverwell testified he shot because it appeared sick and wouldn't leave the area around a cabin and tractor that his family often walked through. Culverwell said he shot the animal to stop its suffering and prevent it from attacking anybody.

"What I think happened (in that specific case) was the jury did not think the statute made room for a mercy killing," Mackey said. She added, in her opinion, the laws Culverwell was charged with breaking were written to regulate hunters and prevent "thrill-killing," and so the statutes did not apply to her client in this case.

The final elk Culverwell was convicted of killing illegally was one he ran over with a tractor. Culverwell testified he had no choice when the animal charged his farm vehicle in a seeming fit of fear and desperation.

In response to that testimony, Jeremy Snow, deputy district attorney for the 14th Judicial District, played an excerpt of Culverwell's conversation with DOW Criminal Investigator Eric Schaller on the day his agency searched the Culverwell's ranch.

Culverwell aksed in the excerpt how long he was supposed to wait for the animal to get out of his way and that the elk had more to worry about from his tractor.

Mackey said if the District Attorney's Office had played the whole exchange, the jury would have heard how Culverwell described the starving body condition of the animal and how he never wanted to hurt it.

Mackey said she didn't know how the jury made the four convictions relating to that elk.

Culverwell was acquitted of all charges relating to 12 other elk in the case, nine of which were found on his ranch and three others across U.S. Highway 40.

Three of the elk without convictions found on Culverwell's ranch were shown to be stuck in hay pen fences. No ballistics evidence linked Culverwell to any of the other elk found on his ranch or across the highway.

The DOW

Mackey said the DOW's investigation of Culverwell and his wife, Margaret, disturbed her.

There was no physical evidence that linked Culverwell to eight of the 16 elk in the case, she said, but the DOW and the District Attorney's Office still charged her client and testified as though he were guilty beyond doubt.

As an "outside," Mackey said she was "shocked" by the level of hostility between ranchers and the DOW.

"It's just awful," she said. "The animosity between the ranchers and the DOW is amazing. I have tried a lot of high-profile cases, and I have never seen a courthouse that full for two weeks.

"People's lives and their ranching plans and their livelihoods are being threatened by the DOW's policies in herd management."

Mackey added that Culverwell's case and the stories she heard while investigating it show an "abuse of government power, and I'm outraged by it."

She singled out testimony from Schaller, the DOW investigator who interviewed her client the day his ranch was searched. She was bothered Schaller introduced himself as a DOW officer who wanted to reach out to ranchers, but he didn't mentioned the hidden tape recorder and search warrant in his pocket.

"I found Schaller's conduct and testimony really, really disturbing," Mackey said.

The next step

The Culverwells have not decided whether to appeal the convictions, Mackey said. Right now, they have to answer some tough questions for themselves.

If Rodney is convicted of a felony, he could no longer possess or own a firearm, which will threaten his ability to be a rancher.

"The ramifications of this conviction are enormous, and it makes me very sad," Mackey said.

Each conviction of willful destruction of big game carries a possible sentence of one to three years in prison, a fine between $1,000 and $100,000 and a mandatory two-year parole. A conviction also guarantees 20 hunting license suspension points, and the Colorado Wildlife Commission may suspend hunting privileges for one year to life for each count.

Because Culverwell was convicted of three or more counts of illegal possession of wildlife, each of his four convictions could result in a possible sentence of up to one year in county jail, a fine between $1,000 and $10,000 and 15 hunting license suspension points. The Wildlife Commission also may suspend hunting privileges for one year to life.

Each count of hunting without a license and hunting out of season carry penalties of 15 hunting license suspension points and a fine equal to two times the amount of the most expensive hunting license for the species taken.

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

Comments

Wapitipoker 5 years, 7 months ago

I speed all the time - as do most Americans. The difference is that you don't go to court or jail for going a few miles over the speed limit. That's a terrible comparrison. And yes Pamela Mackey is being overly dramatic about his "ability to be a rancher". Sure he couldn't shoot all the bears and mountain lions that are apparently dragging every healthy cow into the bushes, but I'll bet he could still be a rancher!

I'm trying to convey the fact that she is over-representing the minor inconvenience of him not having his gun. Those would be the consequences of his actions that he should have been well aware of. That is what makes this country great - along with all of our rights comes responsibility and consequences. Many ranchers seem to think that they are above the law because they own a lot of land. The judge will probably go easy on him however because of the rancher-centric corruption that makes northwest Colorado such a great place... for ranchers. So take heart!

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Wapitipoker 5 years, 7 months ago

Not owning a firearm could threaten his ability to be a rancher? You've got to be kidding me. That is a stretch. He might not be a gun-toting rancher, but I'll bet he could still own cows and those cows could probably reproduce, regardless of his armed status.

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slipknot 5 years, 7 months ago

Ok now that he's been convicted by a jury of his peers, and you can't argue that the jury wasn't his peers. Look forward to the time when the Judge can sentence him and then they can decide to appeal. But now it's time to leave them alone and get on with their lives. The DOW is really going to have to take care of him now.

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Carolynhorse3 5 years, 7 months ago

Who are you people? Do you even ranch? The DOW had better be prepared for an inhouse investigation. Mr. Culverwell could be on my team anyday. I would definitely want him protecting my back in a blizzard with starving, irrate elk coming after me. America needs more guys like him. And for him needing firearms, you bet your patooty he needs them-have you seen the size of the bear and cougar that love to feed off of cattle? They're ginourmous. Oh, wait, don't tell me-if a bear is dragging one of your cows and you are out riding around and come across it and it comes at you-you can't shoot it-is that what America is coming to? None of you people were there-you don't know all that happened. Mr. Culverwell called the DOW to report the elk he had to shoot and for his honesty and hard work (doing what the DOW was failing to do) they show up on his doorstep, misrepresent themselves (lie) and then try to trick him? Who's the one that needs to be investigated? The honest, hardworking rancher or the sneaky, deceitful DOW? Hooray for Mr. Culverwell going the distance to help other ranchers by winning the right to protect your property. If Mr. Culverwell spends any jail time for mercifully shooting 4 elk then America is headed for the crapper. We have pedifiles tricking innocent children on the internet, a mass murderer who has spent 26 years in prison and is supposed to be sentneced to death but they have found him too mentally ill to proceed? You have got to be kidding me. He murdered 5 of his own children and 8 others-are our laws a little messed up when this happens? This whole trial was a bunch of bologna as I am certain everyone has broken the law at one time or another-just check your speedometers once in awhile. I just hope none of you who are so fired up about this conviction against Mr. Culverwell don't ever have to rush a loved one to the hospital and break the law going over the speed limit-cause you know-the law is the law and you should get into trouble and get a ticket and get a fine and lets say you happened to have had a beer just before this happened-you could lose your license for awhile and possible jail time-doesn't seem fair does it. But, the law is the law no matter what the circumstances are-isn't that what some of you people are saying? I guess Mr. Culverwell should have just lied, killed the elk and hid them-that is what this trial is implying ranchers should do. Good job Mr. Culverwell for being honest. We need more Americans like you.

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Joanna Hatten 5 years, 7 months ago

Carolynhorse3......I'd be on your team with Rodney anyday. Those of us who know him and his circumstances understand. Those who don't and want to shoot their mouths.....OH WELL!! Rodney...you may not have won completely but you what you did win you won with dignity and honor.

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buck523 5 years, 7 months ago

If I were out and a bear was dragging off one of my cows, I would shoot it and then call the DOW and let them know what I had done. Likely, if he had done that....it would not have come to this.

If there is much more to this story than is out there, please let us all know. If there are more facts than is being reported, please let us all know. From what I have heard, he does deserve to be convicted. Here are the facts as I know them:

1) Shot lots of elk on his property in self defense of his hay.....in other words....his hay was in grave danger and he needed to invoke the "make my day law" on the elk. 2) He felt the need to run over an elk while he was in his tractor because he felt threatened, yet was encased in it. 3) He shot some elk because they were tangled in his fence, instead of calling the DOW. I have called the DOW before in instances like this and have had no problem getting it taken care of. My guess is he did not call the DOW.

What other facts are there? My issue is that if it were one or two elk, so be it. But the number of elk found shot on his place is over the top. Like, I said......rationally explain why he should not be convicted.

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Defiance 5 years, 7 months ago

Wapitipoker. I'm sure your off-spring will reproduce with the same thoughts as yours.

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Tencman 5 years, 7 months ago

Defiance. The inability to produce meaningful dialog can be due to a genetic breakdown of your own but your spelling is spot on. .

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lostyermarbles 5 years, 7 months ago

well, he would always have his tractor to run over em!

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irishbrat 5 years, 7 months ago

Doesn't say his wife can't OWN the gun, so if she owns it, why can't he borrow it and shoot it? Just curious....

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irishbrat 5 years, 7 months ago

Nevermind, answered my own question.....

18 U.S.C. ยง922(g) provides in part: It shall be unlawful for any person-- (1) who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year; (2) who is a fugitive from justice; (3) who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802));


(6) who has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;


to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce. See

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