By Sabian Warren
ASHEVILLE – Jury selection began Tuesday in a federal trial of three Georgia bear hunting guides charged with violating wildlife laws by illegally hunting black bears in Western North Carolina and north Georgia.
Jerry Francis Parker, Jerome Brock Parker and Walter Henry Stancil, of Rabun County, Ga., are accused of conspiring to violate state and federal laws regarding the hunting and killing of black bears in Rabun County and in Macon County in North Carolina, including a juvenile bear weighing less than 50 pounds, according to court documents.
The three men are the latest in a string of defendants to answer charges in connection with Operation Something Bruin, a four-year undercover operation to halt bear poaching and other wildlife violations in WNCand north Georgia.
Officials in the two states announced in February 2013 that the investigation had netted 81 wildlife violators and some 980 violations.
At the federal courthouse in downtown Asheville, Judge Martin Reidinger questioned prospective jurors about whether they could render a fair verdict given the facts of the case. Several jurors were dismissed because they expressed opposition to hunting in general or were acquainted with law enforcement officers or defendants in the case.
Prospective jurors were called from throughout WNC. Prosecutors said the case could take anywhere from two days to a week.
Illegal acts alleged against the men include:
• Jerome Parker directed a client to kill a young black bear in Macon County, which weighed less than the 50-pound minimum required by N.C. law, according to court documents. Though N.C. law allows hunters to harvest only one bear per season, Parker informed the client he could hide the small bear in a cave and the client could try for a larger bear. The customer hid the bear and continued hunting, according to court records.
• Jerry Parker arranged for Stancil to take a client to a hunting site in Rabun County where Stancil used chocolate as bait, which is prohibited under Georgia law. The client killed an adult bear, and Jerry Parker advised him to falsely report that the animal was killed in North Carolina, prosecutors allege. The skin and meat from the bear then were transported to Macon County.
Operation Something Bruin was a joint effort of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.
Undercover officers documented 10 bears that were killed illegally — six in North Carolina and four in Georgia — and officials said they believe other bears were taken illegally during that time in hunts where an officer was not present.
Posing as hunters and using social media to make contacts, officers with the two state wildlife agencies infiltrated groups suspected of poaching.