Jury selected in Culverwell trial
At noon Tuesday, jury selection in Rodney Culverwell’s trial had become the longest such process in Michael O’Hara’s five-and-a-half-year judgeship.
A little after 5:30 p.m., a jury was chosen.
Fourteen Moffat County residents were selected to hear testimony in the case, including at least three self-described ranchers and another four who said they were hunters.
Culverwell, a 41-year-old Moffat County rancher, is accused of poaching elk on his property this winter. The 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office filed charges in April after a Colorado Division of Wildlife investigation in January and February.
Culverwell is charged with 16 counts of willful destruction of big game, a Class 5 felony; 16 counts of illegal possession of wildlife, a misdemeanor; 16 counts of hunting big game without a license, a misdemeanor; 16 counts of hunting out of season, a misdemeanor; and 16 counts of failure to dress wildlife, a misdemeanor.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The District Attorney’s Office originally charged Culverwell with 18 counts of each crime, but two counts of each were dismissed Monday morning before jury selection. Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Snow said he could not comment on the dismissals and no other information was available.
Many of the more than 100 potential jurors summoned to the County Courthouse for jury selection said they knew some, if not most, of the potential witnesses in the case.
The majority said they knew many local residents on the witness list, while a few also said they knew DOW wildlife officers mentioned.
Several added they knew Culverwell and his family.
Most people were not concerned whether they could impartially judge the case because of their relationships. The case itself, however, hit many close to home.
Culverwell’s defense attorney, Pamela Mackey, of Denver, has said her defense would be based on the right to defend personal property, a right guaranteed in the U.S. and Colorado constitutions.
She alleged that Culverwell’s hay and fences were being destroyed by wildlife this winter, and he had no other alternative than to take other means besides those the DOW provided. The defense does not concede Culverwell killed all the animals alleged by the District Attorney’s Office.
Several prospective jurors said they or a family member had or have a ranching business in the county and have had negative interactions with the DOW.
“We have been trying for years to get the DOW to help us with the damage from the elk and the antelope, and no one ever did anything,” a prospective juror said. The attorneys dismissed her.
Another prospective juror said wildlife ate 19 tons of hay in one week on his son’s ranch this winter, and the DOW did nothing.
The attorneys also dismissed him.
Not all residents were excused because of their opinion of the DOW. One woman said she could not take responsibility for judgment in the case because she is “an animal lover” and does not believe in hunting.
“I am incapable of setting aside my opinion on this matter,” she said. “It’s something I cannot forget.”
The judge dismissed her.
Other possible jurors said they were conflicted, but felt strongly about the charges.
A woman said she had first been “appalled” by what Culverwell may have done, but had a change of heart in the courtroom.
“When you sit in the courtroom and you see Mr. Culverwell,” she said, “you see he’s just a person like any of us.”
Attorneys dismissed her, as well.
Toward the end of the day, Snow asked the remaining would-be jurors about their opinions about a person’s right to defend property.
The vote was unanimous that all people should be allowed to defend their property.
However, the jury box also was unanimous in that there are limits to that right.
Each one asked said they would have to hear evidence in the case before they could determine when a person went beyond their rights and should be convicted of criminal charges.
The final 14 jurors were selected from this group.
Culverwell’s trial is set to reconvene at 10 a.m. in District Court.
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org