SHERIDAN — A member of the Crow Tribe on trial for poaching said Thursday he believed he was in Montana at the time he took his elk, while prosecutors later sought to undercut that assertion.
Clayvin Herrera, of St. Xavier, Montana, faces two citations for elk taken in Wyoming out of season in 2014. Thursday was the second day of the poaching trial in Sheridan County Circuit Court.
“Mr. Herrera, when you shot the elk in question, where you in Wyoming?” his attorney, Kyle Gray, asked him during testimony.
“No,” Herrera said.
But later Deputy County and Prosecuting Attorney Christopher LaRosa pressed Herrera about an article from the Billings Gazette from Feb. 26, 2015, that stated Herrera and his fellow hunters knew they were in Wyoming when they shot the animals.
“I don’t think I was quoted as saying anything,” Herrera said. He later added, “I don’t recall saying that exact wording.”
The article quotes Herrera remembering how his grandmother had told him never to feel restricted about hunting in the area but uses the reporter’s words — not a quote— to establish that Herrera knew his location.
Herrera said in court Thursday he believed at the time he was on the Crow Reservation. He testified that snow was deep on Jan. 18, 2014, the day of the hunt, and he did not see any border markings.
Herrera disputes the location of the Montana-Wyoming border that the state had used, as marked by border postings and confirmed by GPS devices. Gray had hoped to call C.J. Stewart, the former chair of the Natural Resources Committee for the Crow Nation Legislative Branch, to testify about an ongoing border dispute.
Judge Shelley Cundiff acknowledged the dispute but said a possible resurvey of the borders was still in an investigative state.
“And until that’s adjudicated at some other court or specifically determined by some other means, that’s the boundary line,” Cundiff said, referencing the boundary line the state had identified.
Had she permitted it, Stewart would have testified about a joint action resolution from 2013 calling for a resurvey of the Crow Reservation border. The Crow Tribe sent the resolution to federal officials in the Department of the Interior and its sub-agency, the Bureau of Land Management, after tribal elders expressed concern that the borders of the reservation had essentially shrunk.
“It’s very likely that it’s off,” Stewart told the courtroom after jurors had left, referencing the state’s location of the Montana-Wyoming border.
Herrera’s testimony also included that it is commonplace to be discreet about hunting locations in order to preserve favored and lesser-known spots. Earlier the state had highlighted comments on Herrera’s friend’s Facebook page that suggested the friend, who accompanied Herrera on the January 2014 hunt, did not want to disclose the location of the kills.
Herrera also stressed that he took all of the meat from his elk and the two other animals his group shot and had pulled the tenderloin out in a way that didn’t require his knife. Dustin Shorma, a game warden for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and lead investigator on the case, had previously noted that he found no knife marks in a certain area of the animal, suggesting the tenderloin might have been left.
Herrera also discussed various conservation efforts at the Crow Tribal Fish and Game and said he shared the same concerns Shorma had about an increase in poachings along the Montana-Wyoming border in the winter of 2013-2014.
The state called two additional witnesses Thursday.
Scott Adell, wildlife investigator with the WGFD, testified about his work with Shorma on the case. He said photos posted online that led them to cite Herrera had been posted on the evening of the hunt.
Kim Frazier, who works at the WGFD laboratory in Laramie, detailed her work as a forensics investigator. She confirmed that animal heads the WGFD had taken after the hunt from Herrera and two others matched the pelvises investigators found on a site roughly a mile south of the Montana-Wyoming border markers.
Both sides were scheduled to make closing arguments before the jury deliberated Friday morning.