Moffat County rancher appears in court for pretrial conference

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Monty Luke Pilgrim

A Moffat County rancher charged with violating state cattle statutes will be tried by jury beginning July 9.

Monty Luke Pilgrim, 51, of Little Snake River, is charged in Moffat County District Court with one count of theft exceeding $20,000, a Class 3 felony; nine counts of theft of certain animals, a Class 4 felony; one count of concealing estrays, a Class 6 felony; and one count of wrongful branding, a Class 6 felony.

In a pretrial conference Wednesday, Judge Michael O’Hara confirmed the jury trial and set the ground rules for jury selection, opening statements and witness examinations.

O’Hara said he will randomly select 25 residents for the panel and prosecutors and the defense would each be able to remove six from jury duty, which would leave 12 jurors plus an alternate.

O’Hara asked Pilgrim defense attorneys Ed Nugent, of Grand Junction, and Kristopher Hammond, of Steamboat Springs, if 30 minutes for each juror would be adequate.

“I think we’re going to need significantly more time than that,” Nugent said. “This is a case where there has been significant press coverage in Craig in addition to this case being the subject of a skit at a (Craig) Kiwanis Club event that takes place every year.

“That would indicate there could be a large number of people in the panel that have already been exposed to this case and have come up with their own preconceived ideas.”

Nugent asked if the case would be eligible for a jury questionnaire to probe the publicity issue, which would also increase the amount of time the defense would need for jury selection.

O’Hara extended juror questioning to 60 minutes per juror.

“I’ve sat on a number of high-publicity cases and this is not one of them in my opinion,” O’Hara said. “You’ll know, before your voir dire starts, whether there is a publicity issue because that is one of the questions I ask.”

Han Ng, prosecuting attorney for the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Moffat County, was asked how many witnesses he plans to call and how much time he would need for examination.

Taking questioning, redirects and objections into consideration, Ng estimated about a day and a half.

He plans to call as many as 13 witnesses, including Brad Ocker, of the Department of Agriculture’s Brand Inspection Division, deputy Gary Nichols, of the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, two local ranchers to serve as expert witnesses, and all nine of the alleged victims.

Pilgrim is due back in court at 8:15 a.m. July 9, the first day of the trial.

Jury selection will begin at 9 a.m. and complete around 2:30 p.m., O’Hara said.

He expects day one of the trial to conclude with opening statements.

Pilgrim turned himself into authorities in September 2011 after a joint investigation by the sheriff’s office and the Department of Agriculture’s Brand Inspection Division resulted in a warrant for his arrest.

According to an arrest affidavit filed in late September, authorities allege Pilgrim was in possession of 36 cows and 31 calves belonging to nine area ranchers.

Authorities estimated the value of the stray cattle allegedly in Pilgrim’s possession at $68,000.

His case was bound over to district court during a preliminary hearing in February when Moffat County Court Judge Sandra Gardner found probable cause for the theft charge against Pilgrim, the only charge eligible for a preliminary hearing.

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Comments

jaxx 1 year, 11 months ago

Wow, people remember what happens in the Kiwanis play (I'm impressed, really). Mr. Pilgrim probably would be better off having a change of venue for this trial but I hope it stays close as I really want to see how this case plays out in court. I don't remember any similar cases in the recent past and wonder what possible defense could help the defendant. Seems pretty cut and dried to me. But maybe Im missing something. Maybe our past Coloradans had reasons for hanging their neighbors caught in similar circumstances. Just sayin....

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Richard Warner 1 year, 11 months ago

Hmmm, something isn't right about this story. Sent a letter to editor on Saturday in response to this story, and still waiting for it to see light of day.

Am totally for people getting justice, and can appreciate the anger of the neighbors at first blush of this alleged crime. Am sure that everyone (including Monty) wants these people to be compensated, if anything is legitimately owed.

What I do not get, is why the neighbors did not first go talk to Monty about it? The first that he heard about it, according to the story in the paper, was when a Sheriff's deputy arrived.

Coming from a ranching family, and living these days surrounded by ranchers, I know all about "fence crawlers." Cattle will cross back and forth through fences at low spots or where the fence is loose, etc. Cattle likely went both ways across these property lines, and an imperfect system developed over the years.

It seems that this was likely a tacit status quo situation that developed over years...where there was a small amount of mingling, and people just presumed it would all balance out over time.

Or maybe it goes deeper than that? Maybe there were deep-seated long-term issues or hostility between some of the neighbors, so that they would rather let some mingling occur than have to talk with the neighbors? I dunno? It's just really odd to me that the neighbors did not first discuss it with Monty, if everything was being done in good faith. This all seemingly happened at once, like a trap slamming shut. Just sayin'.

And this alleged $68K that gov types came up with. Am confident that Monty would be (and would have been) happy to pay any valid and verified debt. Weren't his first words to the deputy something like, "We need to sort this out right now."

But instead, this will drag out for another couple years and maybe turn into millions of dollars before all is said and done. You know, legal fees, restitution including for emotional suffering, etc., punitive damages, blah blah blah. Lawyers get paid, whether they win or lose.

As I understand it, if any punitives are assessed, those do not go to the plaintiffs...they go to the government. So, the gov can potentially make some serious money off of this, and it is a lot easier than prosecuting a big corporation.

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Richard Warner 1 year, 11 months ago

The other odd thing about the plaintiffs, is why do they really want to pursue this? Besides not contacting Monty, why won't they just take compensation for any verified loss (presumably adjusted for any cattle of Monty's that may have landed on their land)?

You know, what value is there in a dragged-out 2-3 year stressful case, with every aspect of their operations likely also being examined and made public. It tears at the fabric of their little rural community. Are they hoping for a windfall, where any money they are actually owed grows by perhaps 10x? Is it all payback for some anger that has been simmering for years? That all does not seem right. It just does not seem that the plaintiffs are being forced to pursue legal action as the only way to resolve this.

Can say I have faith in my rural neighbors to have good fences, and to engage in honest good-faith communication...to exhaust all avenues for resolving a dispute...before it goes to court. For one thing, everyone is too busy for a drawn-out drama. In a case like this, if everyone is honest, it likely is a lot more mundane and understandable than how it has been hyped.

Why not just calculate any verifiable debt, have that paid, and move on? Get back to the business of ranching and healing the community. Do not give the government training in how to take ranches, and do not let your community be divided.

Waiting for more of the story to come out, suspect there is a lot of information that is not as it seems. Am guessing that the hoped outcome for all of this is that Monty goes to prison and his ranch is seized and sold. That would potentially provide a nice windfall for everyone, even the government.

People seem to gloss to some situation where Monty was out there herding up cattle under the moonlight, you know...like in the movies. Is anyone even making such claims, nevermind having proof? Now that scenario indeed would be heinous! Have not seen even a suggestion of such, though. This does not seem to be that.

From everything in the stories so far, this seems much more mundane, a tacit status quo. Sure, if that is the case, it is not the right way to handle mingling, but a lot of times these "tacit status quos" develop that are less than perfect...they are convenient.

Will see, but at least am leaving my mind open...and want to better understand why the neighbors are handling things as they are. May any legitimate debt be resolved, and may all aspects of this situation be revealed, and may it not be over-blown. If there is any guilt, let it be acknowledged, and reasonable restitution made, and maybe just maybe the relationships can...normalize?

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Richard Warner 1 year, 11 months ago

Would also hope that any "bad-faith" efforts by any parties involved, are brought to light. May this be about legitimate justice, rather than gamesmanship.

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jaxx 1 year, 11 months ago

Not sure what you mean by "bad faith by any parties involved". It seems to me that Mr. Pilgrim had many opportunities to make this situation right many years ago as some of the returned stock has been missing for many years. Most ranch neighbors are usually pretty good about returning astrayed stock.... not sure why Mr. Pilgrim did not return stock for several years as it was evident such stock had been worked (and presumably identified as not belonging to Mr. Pilgrim). I don't believe any of the parties involved are looking for a huge windfall. I do believe that Mr. Pilgrim was aware of the astrayed cattle and presumably did nothing to make the situation right. I don't know Mr. Pilgrim at all but no neighbor I've ran stock next to would ever condone me keeping his cattle for several years (raising calves every year). Would Mr. Pilgrim (or you Reasonable) be ok with me keeping the calves off of your cattle? No, you would consider me a thief. Just sayin.......

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