STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS PERTAINING TO THE PROSECUTION AND CONVICTION OF THOSE INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED IN THE DEATH OF A WHOOPING CRANE ON DECEMBER 1, 2009
In view of the questions arising out of this case I would like to provide some information and context to the legal proceedings that were initiated in connection with this incident. When the case was presented to this office in the summer of 2010, Nina J. Alexander was the prosecuting attorney. She remained in office until December 31, 2010. Bruce Aukerman THEN took office on January 1, 2011, and is presently serving in that capacity. I was the deputy prosecutor for Nina and continue to serve in that capacity for Bruce. Because I am familiar with these cases and have, in fact, appeared in court at various times during their pendency, I feel that I am in a position to provide additional details that seem to be missing from the general perception of this matter.
In the summer of 2010, this case was brought to this office by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Indiana Department of Conservation. It was represented to us that a decision was made not to prosecute this case under the applicable federal statutes. I do not recall if the U. S. Attorney having jurisdiction over this matter declined prosecution or the Fish and Wildlife Service did not want to submit the case to the U. S. attorney. It is my recollection that the special agent from the Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that the applicable federal statutes required the proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing of the endangered animal required an awareness that the animal was, in fact, an endangered species and that under the facts of this case there was a serious question as to whether or not such could be proven. There was also the issue that the person directly responsible for the killing of the animal was under 18 years of age and therefore subject to juvenile court jurisdiction.
Pursuant to Indiana Code 312 IAC 9-4-14(13) and 14-22-14-1, the killing or taking of an endangered species in Indiana is an A misdemeanor. An A misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of $1.00 to $5,000.00 and/or a term of imprisonment up to one year. The reports submitted to our office detailed the involvement of two individuals—a juvenile and an adult 18 years of age at the time of the incident. Both were charged with misdemeanor offenses relating to this offense.
The evidence established that the juvenile was responsible for shooting the bird in question. Juvenile proceedings are confidential in Indiana and I cannot disclose the disposition entered in that case. The adult entered a plea of guilty to False Informing, an A misdemeanor. The factual basis in his case established that he had a peripheral involvement and did not participate in the actual killing of the bird but did not disclose the nature and extent of his knowledge of the incident when questioned by the authorities. He received a sentence of one year which was suspended and he was placed on probation for that period of time. His sentence and the disposition of the juvenile were consistent with those accused and convicted of A misdemeanors with their respective legal history.
A question as to the issue of restitution arose in the case given the rareness of the bird. Specifically, could restitution be calculated and made payable to a party meeting the definition of a victim in the Indiana statute on restitution. We requested information on this matter and received some information that this bird could have a value in excess of $100,000.00. The computation of this amount and the certainty required by our statue on restitution was a source of some concern. More problematic, however, was the question of who would be entitled to this restitution. We did not receive any satisfactory answer to this question and decided to defer the issue of restitution so that anyone who feels that they have the legal standing to bring such a claim in a civil lawsuit for damages may do so. That is still the case. The possibility of such a lawsuit was brought to the attention of both attorneys for the involved individuals. As of yet, no one has commenced such an action.
A representative from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service was present at virtually every court hearing and pre trial conference held in these cases. He was also updated as to any developments by email. At no time were we every advised that these cases were being handled inappropriately. Given the Indiana statues that apply to this situation and the range of penalties applicable thereto, I can say that the outcome in these cases is consistent with the outcome in other A misdemeanor cases.
I hope that this information is helpful to those who are interested in these cases.