Final poacher to spend one year in county jail
Man gets 14 days for each felony count of wildlife destruction in poaching case
Does shot illegally, their fawns left to die, alleged drug use and a lack of remorse contributed to a sentence in 14th Judicial District Court for a crime Colorado Division of Wildlife officers classified as the worst wildlife crime in the modern history of the state.
The saga has ended with the sentencing of the third participant in a killing spree that left more than 65 mule deer and antelope dying along Moffat County roads.
Josh Lawrence, 20, was sentenced Wednesday to 378 days in Moffat County Jail 14 days for each of the 27 felony counts of willful destruction of wildlife he was convicted of in September. He was given credit for 11 days of pre-sentencing confinement. Lawrence was also sentenced to 10 years probation, 480 hours of useful public service and $16,076 in restitution. A stipulation of his probation is that Lawrence have no contact with co-defendants Stanley Tipton, 18, and Thomas Fondie, 19.
The sentencing was fairly similar to what 14th Judicial District Deputy District Attorney David Waite recommended. He requested a jail term of 405 days and 1,000 hours of public service because he said Lawrence never accepted responsibility for his actions.
“I don’t think he thinks he has done anything wrong,” Waite said. “This is a man who needs to have significant jail time to impress upon him the significance of his acts.”
Lawrence told Division of Wildlife (DOW) officers during the investigation that as many as 100 animals may have been killed during the months of June, July and August.
The manner of the shootings and the act itself offended residents across the state.
In a letter to the court, DOW officer Brad Petch described the carnage in heart-wrenching detail.
“The .22-caliber rifles used to kill many of the animals were incapable of killing cleanly, even at the short ranges at which the animals were shot,” the letter states. “Three (animals) were found wounded several days after being shot and had to be destroyed by Division of Wildlife officers. The vast majority of the animals shot were female. Most were lactating. Several dead fawns were found that had either been shot or had starved to death beside their mothers. The suffering imposed on these animals is impossible to describe.”
Petch also said several animals were deliberately run over by a vehicle after being shot.
The description touched 14th Judicial District Judge Joel Thompson who said he was usually unaffected by this type of situation.
“I don’t have any strong love of wildlife. I am not a hunter. These critters don’t mean a whole lot to me,” Thompson said. “Even so, the wholesale slaughter of wildlife affects my sensibilities.”
Lawrence admitted to the killings in a statement to the DOW and later said he was involved, but didn’t shoot any animals. There was no physical evidence connecting Lawrence to the crime, but jury members said they found him guilty as a complicitor, which under Colorado law, contains the same penalties.
In early August, 1998, the group of young men spent three nights spotlighting and shooting a herd of deer and pronghorn antelope from a Moffat County road. Sixty-five animals were counted dead or dying. An area resident saw the carnage and reported it to the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Two months later, tips from concerned residents led to the arrests of Tipton, Lawrence and Fondie.
In his sentencing argument, Waite asked for a stiff sentence to drive home the gravity of the crime to Lawrence.
“Mr. Lawrence just isn’t getting it at this point,” Waite said. “He just doesn’t understand the magnitude of this situation.”
On Nov. 5, while awaiting sentencing for his case, Lawrence was arrested in Routt County for driving under the influence of drugs, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
A jail sentence, Waite said, is the only way to impress upon Lawrence some respect for the law and urge him to take responsibility for his actions.
“Your use of marijuana concerns me,” Thompson told Lawrence. “I think you’re not taking your situation seriously.”
Defense attorney Mike Lassota told the court it was not fair for Lawrence to be sentenced any harsher because he exercised his right to go to trial.
Lawrence was the only one of the three defendants in the case to go to trial. His mother, Sandy, said Lawrence made the decision because he was convinced of his innocence and was certain it would be shown in a trial.
“A long jail sentence is not going to send any more of a message than six months in jail or even three months for that matter,” Lassota said.
In May, Thomas Fondie, 19, was convicted and sentenced to one year in Moffat County Jail, 10 years of probation and fined more than $17,000.
According to Waite, Fondie did most of the killing, but he accepted a plea bargain and was charged with four felony and 10 misdemeanor counts.
Tipton was sentenced Tuesday. He received six months in Moffat County Jail, two years of probation, 480 hours of community service and $10,375 in fines and costs.
Lawrence chose not to speak on his own behalf at the sentencing hearing, but Petch had a recommendation for the court.
“I respectfully suggest that Mr. Lawrence be sentenced not as a boy who committed an act of vandalism, but as a young man who willingly, knowingly and systematically destroyed valuable and dearly held public resources,” his letter stated.
Thompson said he gave a harsh sentence because of Lawrence’s lack of remorse.
“I would think you’d be horrified and shocked by your actions,” he said. “These are state resources you’ve gone out and willfully destroyed.”
The sentence will also act as a deterrent, Thompson said.
“We don’t want others to come in and think they can engage in the same acts,” he said.
At least $4,000 of Lawrence’s fines will go to the DOW as compensation for hours investigating the case.
Lawrence will begin his jail sentence Jan. 1, being given the opportunity to graduate from high school before serving his sentence.
“I think that was the right thing to do,” Waite said. “Obviously he would serve society better and eventually become a contributing member.”
Neither Lawrence or his father Sid chose to comment on the ruling.
As the United States honors the many individuals who have made the ultimate sacrifice this Memorial Day, multiple ceremonies in Moffat County will pay tribute as part of the holiday.