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,
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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