A trial has begun for a Whitehall taxidermist charged with paying $5,000 for a trophy bighorn ram that prosecutors say he knew had been shot illegally. The case is controversial because the ram was shot by an undercover Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden as John Lewton was being investigated for illegal outfitting. Lewton's trial on a Jefferson County charge of felony purchase of an illegally killed animal began Wednesday before District Judge Loren Tucker. Lewton filmed warden Justin Gibson's September 2008 hunt in the Missouri River Breaks southeast of Big Sandy. Lewton let two other men lead them to the ram using twoway radios and crossed private property to get to the animal, so he knew the ram had been illegally killed and knew he was committing a crime when he bought its head, horns and cape, Montana Deputy At torney General Barbara Harris told the jury. "He coached Justin Gibson not to talk about the use of the radio," Harris said Wednesday. "He just disparaged the condition of asking to cross private property." Attorney Jack Morris of Whitehall said his client is a businessman who makes hunting videos and has raised money for the conservation of bighorn rams in the state. Morris said the state is trying to divert attention from the fact that Gibson shot the ram, which reportedly scored more than 200 Boone and Crockett points, putting it among the largest bighorns recorded in North America. "Remember who the hunter was," Morris said. "Justin Gibson did not have to do what he did. He killed this trophy quality ram for his own edification and enjoyment." FWP has said the warden intentionally missed several shots at the ram before shooting the ram at close distance out of fear that his identity would be revealed. Lewton is also charged with outfitting without a license, trespassing and hunting without landowner permi s s ion i n Chouteau County and felony possession of a game animal in Blaine County. Those cases have yet to go to trial.
Trial begins in Big Sandy bighorn case
Published: Friday, March 19th, 2010
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