SHERIDAN — A jury decided Friday a Crow tribal member knew or should have known he was in Wyoming two years ago when he shot and killed an elk out of season.
Clayvin Herrera must serve one year of unsupervised probation, a Sheridan County Circuit Judge ordered following the verdict. Herrera could face up to one year in jail if he violates his probation, Judge Shelley A. Cundiff said. Herrera must also pay a $7,000 fine.
Herrera maintained during his three-day trial in Sheridan that he killed the elk but he thought he was on the Crow Reservation in Montana at the time.
Prosecutors contended the site where Herrera shot the elk is about a mile past the Wyoming-Montana border, which is identified by a fence and other boundary markers. They also said Herrera is a game warden on the reservation and should have known precisely where the state border lies.
“His belief or assertion is irrelevant when it comes to the law,” prosecutor Christopher LaRosa said. “We all have our beliefs and sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong. But what we believe is not the law.”
“Ignorance of the law is not a defense,” LaRosa added.
Defense attorney Kyle Anne Gray said Herrera came from his home in Montana for the trial in order to “clear his good name.”
Gray said Herrera was hunting elk to feed his family for the winter. Because Herrera believed he was on the reservation at the time, there was no “criminal intent” in his actions, she said.
The jury found Herrera guilty of taking an antlered elk during closed season and being an accessory to such an offense. About 20 people, including Wyoming Game and Fish officials and members of Herrera’s family, were present for the verdict reading.
Gray said she intended to file an appeal in the case.
Herrera is not allowed to obtain a hunting license in any state for the next three years, the judge ordered. That does not apply to Herrera’s right to hunt on the Crow Reservation.
Herrera was hunting with a group of friends and family members on Jan. 18, 2014, when he and two other men killed elk. Herrera testified Thursday that there was snow up to his waist during the hunt. Therefore, any border markers would have been covered by snow, he explained. Herrera also said the reservation is 2.2 million acres and he doesn’t know every portion of it.
Authorities issued citations to three of the men with Herrera: Ronnie Fisher, Darren Singer and Colton Herrera. The three men pleaded guilty to poaching violations and were fined, each in excess of $1,000.
Wyoming game warden for Dayton, Dustin Shorma, told the court Wednesday he connected Herrera to the illegally killed bull elk after seeing photos of Herrera with an elk posted on the Internet.
Shorma discovered photos of other tribal members uploaded to the website MonsterMuleys.com and believed the kills took place off the reservation. The game warden tracked the pictures to the Big Horn National Forest in Wyoming, specifically a site on a ridge above Eskimo Creek, by matching the topography in the photos. Shorma found the remains of three pelvises elk at the site.
With the help of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Shorma set up an interview with Herrera. Shorma told the court Herrera acknowledged he killed the elk and voluntarily accepted the poaching citations. Herrera also surrendered the elk head he had kept, as did Fisher and Colton Herrera.
A forensic analyst for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department testified Thursday she matched the three elk pelvises located by Shorma to the three heads that were confiscated using DNA evidence.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the passage on DNA and Shorma's investigation.