By Colin Deppen
Pennsylvania Game Commission officials say a juvenile has been sentenced in the 2013 poaching of a prized bull elk in Benezette, while court records say charges against his adult co-defendant have instead been dismissed.
The St. Marys juvenile, whose name is being withheld by officials due to his age, was reportedly sentenced to an indefinite period of detention in a Butler County facility for juvenile offenders, Game Commission Wildlife Officer Doty McDowell told The Era on Monday.
The youth was also reportedly ordered to complete 30 hours of community service and pay court costs, compensation and fines of nearly $90. Restitution in the case is reportedly still pending.
A second individual, 19-year-old Dylan Pontious also of St. Marys, had the charges against him withdrawn in March, online court records show.
The counts, including misdemeanors of unlawfully killing or taking big game out of season and recklessly endangering another person, stemmed from the mortal wounding of a five-by-five-point bull elk on Winslow Hill Road in October of 2013.
The reason for the dismissal remains unclear.
Defense attorney Michael Marshall of DuBois confirmed that both counts against Pontious had been dropped but said he was never told why. Meanwhile, attempts to reach Elk County district attorney Shawn T. McMahon were unsuccessful on Monday.
The case drew a large degree of public interest and more than $4,300 in reward money raised between seven local businesses, McDowell said.
The pot is set to be claimed by one anonymous tipster whose information helped spearhead the investigation and lead to the arrests.
“We believe that reward was the reason the tipster came forward and the reason we were successful in this case,” McDowell said.
Wildlife officials called it an especially cruel and callous crime, with the elk shot in both legs, effectively paralyzed and left for dead. The animal was later euthanized.
The search for the culprits would take nearly 15 months, with charges only filed in January of this year.
In accompanying court documents, officials say the juvenile, Pontious and two other men were joy riding in the area around 2:30 a.m. Oct. 15, 2013, when they came upon the elk standing alongside the road, near a grouping of homes.
Pontious and the juvenile are said to have used handguns to fire on the animal before racing away.
Groggy neighbors recalled hearing the gunshots but little more and leads were initially few and far between.
But an exhaustive investigation would follow, spurred on largely by the anonymous tip identifying three of the four men present at the time of the shooting, one of whom would later finger Pontious and the juvenile as the triggermen.
With the tips, forensic evidence and suspects’ own admissions, officials would charge the two, although only one of the cases would ultimately stick.
Nonetheless, wildlife officers call it a sizable victory in ongoing efforts to punish and deter further attacks on the region’s vulnerable and valuable elk herd.
Investigating wildlife officer Mark Gritzer, in an interview with The Era soon after the charges were filed in January, said the Game Commission’s role in criminal investigations like it is about “giving a voice to wildlife,” adding, “our primary responsibility is to protect resources, that’s what we get paid to do.”