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Father, son get fines, probation in Assateague pony death

February 11, 2012

By Charlene Shapiro, DelmarvaNow.com

SALISBURY -- Fines were not enough for the hunter who pleaded guilty to shooting a wild pony on Assateague Island, a federal judge said.
 
U.S. Magistrate Judge Victor Laws banned Easton resident Justin Eason, 26, from hunting on any federal land for five years after he admitted to accidentally shooting a 28-year-old wild pony during a deer hunt at Assateague Island National Seashore. Laws also ordered Eason to pay $3,000 in fines and $2,000 restitution for the pony, and sentenced him to 18 months of supervised probation.
 
"I'm of the opinion that a fine alone is not enough to protect the public and our natural resources," Laws said.
 
The judge also sentenced Eason's father, Preston resident John Eason, to 12 months of probation and ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine after he pleaded guilty to providing a false report to officers when asked about the pony's death. Laws also banned him from hunting on federal lands for five years and told him he would share responsibility with his son for the $2,000 restitution.
 
"I realize you didn't shoot the horse, but a lot of government resources were expended," Laws told John Eason.
 
Laws, referencing the Easons' previous hunting violations, also said completion of a hunting education and safety course would be a condition of their probation.
 
According to park rangers, a dead pony was reported the day after a Jan. 15, 2011, sika deer hunt on Assateague Island. The pony, a 28-year-old bay mare known by identification number N2BH, had a bullet wound in her shoulder.

Rangers said they removed a slug that had gone through her ribcage and heart and exited the opposite shoulder. The Easons were identified as suspects after they asked the day of the hunt if a pony had ever been shot and what the consequences would be, according to rangers.
 
Although both men denied knowledge of the shooting in initial phone interviews, the younger Eason admitted to accidentally shooting the animal during an in-person interview. Rangers said he changed his statement twice during interviews.
 
"I didn't want to see anybody else get in trouble for something I'd done,"
he told the judge.
 
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Romano agreed to drop charges of illegally taking of wildlife and use of a weapon that endangers persons or property against Eason if he entered a guilty plea to the charge of destroying from its natural state living wildlife and knowingly giving a false report. Fines of $2,500 and $1,500 were proposed.
 
Eason said he had no objections to the hunting ban or restitution for the horse but asked the judge for lesser fines. He said he had two children to support.
 
"It's going to take me a while to pay whatever you decide," he said.
 
Assateague officials said they were pleased to see the case -- the first of its kind at the national park -- resolved.
 
"We got the impression the judge treated it seriously," said Carl Zimmerman, a management assistant at the park. "Hopefully this will serve as an example for others to be more careful."
 
Zimmerman said there were no incidents in this winter's sika deer hunt.

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