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Roberts found not guilty in coyote case

 

Richard Jenkins/Daily Globe

ATTORNEY ROY Polich, representing Jason Charles Roberts, addresses the jury during closing arguments Thursday in Gogebic County Circuit Court. After deliberating, the jury voted to acquit Roberts of the three animal cruelty charges he faced in relation to a YouTube video showing three hunting dogs attacking and killing a wounded coyote.

By RICHARD JENKINS

rjenkins@yourdailyglobe.com

Bessemer - After about two hours of deliberation, a 12-person jury cleared Jason Charles Roberts, 35, of Ironwood, of all charges in Gogebic County Circuit Court Thursday.

Roberts was facing a felony charge of torturing an animal and misdemeanors for cruelty to an animal and failure to kill wounded game stemming from a YouTube video showing hunting dogs attacking and killing a wounded coyote in Ironwood Township.

"(We're) very pleased with (the verdict). We had faith in the system and it just reinforces that faith," Roberts' attorney, Roy Polich, told the Daily Globe following the verdict, adding that he felt the law was misapplied in bringing charges against Roberts.

"The statute itself - the animal torture/cruelty statute - was originally designed for domestic animals and this case (is the first instance) that I know of of trying to take that statute and carry it into a hunting situation," he said. "It causes great concern when subjective views can be put into a hunting/killing situation and allow those subjective views to determine whether it's cruelty to an animal, when in fact the goal is to kill the animal.

"Our hunting tradition is put at risk by allowing this statute to be charged in a hunting situation."

Gogebic County Prosecutor Nick Jacobs expressed disappointment at losing the case, but said he understood the decision made by jurors.

"Although disappointed, we respect their decision," Jacobs said. "I think that it was a situation where - unlike most of your laws on the books - with game rules and regulations there's a lot more wiggle room, meaning room for interpretation. This was such a case. It was a novel case, in the sense that these aren't the type of charges you normally see.

"I do think that, despite what jury instructions and the like (said), one can't help but philosophize when you make a decision about something like this."

The verdict capped the third day of the trial, which began with the testimony of a second conservation officer, Department of Natural Resources Sgt. Marc Pomroy.

Pomroy testified he is the supervisor for the region encompassing Gogebic County and was one of the officers involved in the search of Roberts' home. According to Pomroy, Roberts was cooperative with the officers and showed them the hounds he owned and used for hunting, as well as a shotgun and GPS trackers used in hunting with dogs.

Pomroy testified the gun turned up in the search had several similar characteristics to a gun seen in the YouTube video - including its camouflage pattern, sling and choke tube (a device that impacts the spread of the shot fired out of a shotgun).

Pomroy discussed his conversation with Roberts during the search.

According to Pomroy's testimony, Roberts said he was present when the video was filmed but wasn't the one filming. He also said he couldn't remember who owned the gun in the video and didn't know if it was loaded.

Much like DNR Sgt. Grant Emery testified Wednesday, Pomroy told the jury that during previous hearings he was unaware that using dogs to kill game was illegal in Michigan or that Roberts had an obligation as the owner of the dogs in the video to dispatch the wounded coyote.

Following Pomroy's testimony, he was cross-examined by Polich.

Much like his examination of Emery, among the areas Polich focused on was the fact the charges brought in the case were not commonly seen in relation to hunting and Pomroy's changed understanding of what activities were allowed.

Polich also pressed Pomroy - as he did with Emery Wednesday - on whether the law expressly forbids dogs from killing game, or whether it simply wasn't included in allowed activities.

Jacobs rested the prosecution's case following the conclusion of Pomroy's testimony.

Polich rested the defense's case without calling any witnesses to testify.

With both sides completing their presentations of evidence, closing arguments began.

Jacobs argued while the case was unusual, this didn't mean it was weak or required an acquittal.

He also said while the officers who testified acknowledged additional regulations were brought to their attention since previous court proceedings, the officers were simply human.

He also argued that once they researched the laws regarding hunting with dogs, both officers had a fairly consistent interpretation of the regulations.

Jacobs also talked about the nature of the killing shown in the video, saying the jury needed to put aside any concerns regarding the ramifications of their decision and follow their oaths to decide the case solely on the evidence presented. He continued that it was entirely possible to be a sportsman and hunter and cast a vote of guilty.

Polich began his closing argument by reminding jurors that during jury selection he asked if they would be able to cast a not-guilty vote if the defense didn't call any witnesses, if the prosecution hadn't met the required burden of proof. He also said while no defense witnesses gave testimony in the trial, the defense's evidence came during the cross-examination of the two conservation officers.

He did acknowledge mistakes were made in the woods, including not bringing more ammunition and filming the hunt for YouTube.

After Polich finished his closing argument, Jacobs was allowed one final chance to address the jury before they began deliberating.

He questioned the defense's contention that there wasn't ammunition available to dispatch the coyote. He told the jury the video didn't mention any reference to running out of ammunition. In fact, he argued there was actually a reference seeking another coyote.

The use of dogs to kill the coyote was not made out of necessity, Jacobs argued, but the intent all along.

He wrapped up by asking for a conviction, saying a vote of not guilty meant the behavior seen in the video was allowed and acceptable.

Following the trial, Jacobs told the Daily Globe a second hunter in the video - Dale Scott Allen - is expected to plead guilty to two misdemeanors in a May 16 district court hearing. Jacobs said the plea is the result of an agreement reached with former prosecutor Richard Adams.

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