Moffat County rancher appears in court for pretrial conference
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.