David W. Erb poses with the illegally taken pronghorn in a picture taken with his cell phone.
CHEYENNE - Traditional information sources of a landowner spotting carcasses and an anonymous Stop Poaching tip, combined with the recent rage of Facebook, have teamed up to help convict three Cheyenne men recently for their roles in the wanton destruction of a pronghorn, taking the animal out of season, and associated violations.
On June 15, 2011, Cheyenne game warden Kyle Lash was alerted to the doe pronghorn that had been shot multiple times and left to waste near Federal, about 20 miles northwest of Cheyenne. The next day Lash received an anonymous tip identifying a suspect and further examination of that suspect's Facebook page on June 17 revealed two other men involved with the crime. When interviewed, the men cooperated and confessed to the crime.
Negotiations between the Laramie County Attorney's Office and the defendants' public defenders resulted in the last of the plea agreements being signed Dec. 11, 2011.
Dominick R. Apodaca, 19, pleaded guilty to wanton destruction of a big game animal and taking a big game animal from a vehicle. He was fined $1,100 for each charge and ordered to pay $300 to the victim's compensation fund. He was also ordered to pay $2,000 restitution, and forfeit three rifles used in the crime: .270 bolt action and two .22 semi-automatics. He also had his hunting and trapping license privileges revoked for three years and assessed a $50 public defender fee.
David W. Erb, 29, pleaded guilty to wanton destruction of a big game animal and using an illegal caliber of firearm to take big game. He was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, plus $80 in court costs. He also forfeited his 9 millimeter pistol used in the crime and his hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges for three years.
"In essence, two pronghorn were killed in this crime, because the doe was carrying a full-term fetus," Lash said.
Kevin Wolfe, 21, pleaded guilty to waste or abandonment of a big game animal and accessory to hunting big game during a closed season. He was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution and assessed $80 in court costs and placed on 12 months of unsupervised probation.
After all the suspects were identified through the Facebook postings and information provided through the Stop Poaching Hotline, Lash summoned help from three Laramie game wardens to get all the suspects interviewed at the same time.
On the afternoon of June 23, Lash and game warden Bill Haley interviewed Apodaca and Erb at Erb's residence. Game wardens Roger Bredehoft and Brady Frude interviewed Wolfe at the used car lot where Wolfe worked. All the suspects provided similar accounts of the crime.
On June 14 around 8 a.m. the men met at Wolfe's residence near Federal to target shoot and coyote hunt. Around 10 a.m. on state school trust land, a doe pronghorn was spotted running about 150 yards away. Apodaca reportedly climbed into the back of the pickup, leaned over the roof of the cab, took a shot, and wounded the animal. The men then drove off the road through the section (in violation of state land rules) to chase down the wounded pronghorn. Once close enough, Erb jumped out of the truck and shot the animal with a 9 millimeter pistol and Apodaca with a .22 rifle. Then Wolfe also shot the animal with a .22 rifle. Each man shot multiple times. Erb posed with the animal and had his picture taken with his cell phone. The carcass was loaded into the truck and dumped about one-half mile away for "coyote bait."
A check of Erb's Facebook page discovered this posting at 6:55 the morning of the crime: "Goin (sic) to shoot some guns to releave (sic) stress havent (sic) shoot in 3 years."
At 5:33 p.m. he added to the original post: "Crazy, crazy s--- lol". Apodaca replied at 5:55 p.m., "lol it was fun tho (sic)."
Lash said the Facebook postings helped identify Apodaca as a suspect.
The Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation matched the bullets retrieved from the carcass to the four rifles used in the crime. Pictures and text messages from Erb's cell phone were also collected as evidence. That included a text message sent by Wolfe to Erb, when Erb was still being interviewed by the officers, to corroborate their accounts of the crime.
"Cell phones and social media can be important sources of evidence in crime investigations, including poaching cases," Lash said. "Wildlife officers, prosecutors, and the courts are not going to put up with big game taken out of season and for whatever reason, including just for the fun of it."
(Contact: Kyle Lash (307) 738-2455 or Jeff Obrecht (307) 777-4532)