Stomach contents of trophy buck help convict Wyoming poachers

CSI game wardens
2012-02-15T14:30:00Z 2012-02-16T14:14:13Z Stomach contents of trophy buck help convict Wyoming poachersMARTIN KIDSTON mkidston@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

CODY, Wyo. -- Some CSI-style investigation helped Wyoming Game and Fish wardens hold two men and a woman accountable for illegally shooting a trophy-class mule deer in late 2010.

Shenae Blakemore, 29, Cody Gilligan, 23, and Colton Lapp, 19, were sentenced recently for poaching the buck, which sported a 4x5 point rack and would have scored 185 Boone and Crockett points.

Blakemore, identified as the primary defendant in the case, agreed to a plea deal and received a deferred prosecution. She received two years probation and agreed to pay $3,000 in restitution and not to hunt for two years.

Gilligan and Lapp were both charged as accessories to the crime and were ordered to pay $5,040 each. Both men received one year of probation, one year of suspended jail time and lost their hunting privileges for two years.

Matt Lentsch, Worland area game warden for Wyoming Game and Fish, described the buck as a once-in-a-lifetime animal.

"It's extremely unfortunate that a deer of this magnitude was illegally taken," Lentsch said.

Lentsch said Blakemore shot the buck in a closed area on the Greybull River near the Park and Big Horn county line. The investigation was initiated after wardens found the deer carcass in a Worland shed in November 2010.

The wardens were conducting a search of the property and entered the shed while looking for evidence in an unrelated case. Lapp told wardens that Blakemore had killed the deer in an open area of the Black Hills north of Sundance.

Lentsch said he didn't believe the story and began investigating where the deer was killed. Based upon analysis of the stomach contents of the deer, along with other details, he suspected the deer was illegally taken along the Greybull River.

"The pieces of narrow-leaf cottonwood leaves were the key to the whole case," Lentsch said. "Narrow-leaf cottonwoods typically grow in gravelly soils like those found along the Greybull River, unlike the Plains cottonwoods found along the Bighorn River."

Lentsch said he also obtained text-message records exchanged between Blakemore, Gilligan and Lapp. The text messages also indicated that Blakemore had shot the deer.

The three poachers were charged under a Wyoming law referred to as the "winter range law." It allows fines from $5,000 to $10,000, the loss of hunting and fishing privileges for at least five years and jail time up to one year.

The law is only applied to the most serious wildlife violations involving the intentional and illegal taking of antlered or horned big-game animals, Lentsch said.

"The Wyoming Legislature passed this law to strengthen the penalties and increase the deterrence for cases just like this one," Lentsch said.

On Jan. 20 Lapp was arrested for failure to obey probation stipulations stemming from another wildlife violation in Big Horn County, Lentsch said.

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