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MT: Charges levied against taxidermist

June 4, 2010

Judge: Chouteau hunting charges against Lewton can proceed

A district judge refused to dismiss charges against the Whitehall taxidermist accused of unlawful outfitting and trespassing when guiding an undercover warden who shot a huge bighorn sheep.

John Lewton's trial early in May in Chouteau County District Court was delayed after his attorney moved to dismiss the charges against him.

Lewton argued that he already had been tried and found innocent in Jefferson County of charges based on the same incidents.

In March the Jefferson County jury found Lewton innocent of illegally buying the sheep from undercover agent Justin Gibson. Lewton also faces a charge in Blaine County of felony possession of a game animal.

Lewton is charged in Chouteau County with:

Two misdemeanor counts of hunting without landowner permission.

Felony unlawful possession of a game animal.

Misdemeanor outfitting without a license.

Prosecutors allege that on two days in September 2008, Lewton hunted without permission on property belonging to George Laulo, Catherine Brewer and William Brown.

Prosecutors allege that Lewton possessed the bighorn sheep and transported it in violation of a Montana law prohibiting driving off road without landowner permission and using two-way radios during a hunt. That is a felony.Finally, the state alleges Lewton was outfitting without a license, a misdemeanor.

Judge David Rice ruled that the alleged actions and the charges are different in each of the counties.

Lewton's trial remains set for June 28. Rice's order was filed Thursday in Chouteau County District Court.The state began investigating Lewton and his connection with bighorn sheep hunters in 2005. Lewton claims he simply accompanies hunters to videotape their hunts.

Several outfitters also complained that Lewton was illegally guiding clients in the Missouri River Breaks, a renowned bighorn area.

The ram, which Gibson finally shot after three attempts, scored 204 points under the Boone and Crockett Club record scoring system.The state record bighorn measures 204 7/8 inches and was taken by Jim Weatherly of Missoula in Granite County.

Warden Gibson purposely missed the ram several times but eventually had to shoot it or admit to Lewton his identity as a state investigator.

Meanwhile, the ram's horns and cape remain held as evidence until the case is resolved, according to Ron Aasheim, head of information and communication for Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

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