Wytopitlock man sentenced for shooting bald eagle

Posted Feb. 13, 2012, at 8:34 p.m.
Two bald eagles perch above the Kenduskeag Stream during the first heavy snowfall of the season in November 2011.
Courtesy of Thomas J. Britt
Two bald eagles perch above the Kenduskeag Stream during the first heavy snowfall of the season in November 2011.

BANGOR, Maine — A Wytopitlock man who shot an American bald eagle while barred from possessing firearms and holding a hunting license due to prior convictions was sentenced Monday to one year and one day in prison.

Stephen Voisine, 51, who initially told authorities he thought he had shot a big hawk, also was ordered to undergo two years of supervised release after completing his prison term, to pay a $125 special assessment, undergo mental health and substance abuse treatment and mandatory testing, and not associate with people consuming alcohol or frequent business establishments that primarily exist to sell alcoholic beverages.

Voisine also was prohibited from using or possessing firearms. He was ordered to report to prison on March 30.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock did not mince words in imposing his sentence during Monday’s hearing in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

“From the court’s perspective, it is bad enough to shoot our national bird out of the sky but even if he mistook it for a hawk, it is illegal to shoot a hawk in Maine,” Woodcock said, later adding, “I would have believed you were intoxicated [when the eagle shooting took place] because it was so stupid.”

“I agree,” Voisine said from his seat at a table he shared with his Bangor attorney, Virginia Villa.

Woodcock also noted that Voisine had yet to show remorse for his actions. When given the opportunity to address the court during Monday’s hearing, Voisine instead told the court he did not know he couldn’t possess guns because a rifle that had been taken away from him after a 2008 fish and game violation was returned to him by authorities.

“And there was six others hanging on the wall,” he said.

State game wardens who attended Monday’s sentencing declined to comment, saying that a statement from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was forthcoming. They did, however, say that bald eagle shootings are exceedingly rare and that the incident involving Voisine could be a first in Maine since bald eagles became federally protected more than 70 years ago.

Voisine faced a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 or both for one count of possession of a firearm by a person convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, a Class C felony, according to court documents.

He faced up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both for killing the bald eagle.

The charges stem from an anonymous tip state law enforcement officials received on Nov. 23, 2009, alleging that Voisine had shot an eagle. A state game warden found the dead bird near a logging road in Kingman, according to court documents.

An examination by a veterinarian determined that the eagle had wing and leg fractures and wounds consistent with trauma from a high velocity rifle bullet.

Voisine had been working in the area where the eagle was found, according to court documents. Wardens interviewed witnesses in the area when the incident took place and met Voisine. They recovered a Remington Model 7400 .30-06 rifle from him. Voisine admitted the rifle was his but initially denied killing the eagle.

The following month, state and federal law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at Voisine’s home and interviewed him again. At that time, Voisine admitted he had shot the eagle, saying he thought it was a large hawk.

During Monday’s hearing, Voisine’s attorney argued that he should be spared from jail time because he suffers from a long list of medical and mental health conditions, which would place an undue burden on the federal Bureau of Prisons.

In issuing his sentence, Woodcock acknowledged that Voisine had seen his share of hardships, dropping out of high school in 10th grade after his father died and embarking on a career in logging — and drinking — that began when Voisine was about 12.

Though Voisine faced stiff financial penalties, Woodcock noted that Voisine had been living on disability benefits for the last several years.

The judge told Voisine that he was opting not to impose a fine, or order restitution, “because you can’t afford a fine.”

Despite that, Woodcock also pointed out that Voisine has an extensive criminal history, which Woodcock noted includes 15 convictions for charges that include domestic assault, violation of a protection order, violation of release conditions and harassment by telephone. He also said the Federal Bureau of Prisons was capable to managing Voisine’s various ailments and issues.

Besides the fact that his convicted felon status barred him from possessing guns, the Wytopitlock man also was not eligible to hold a hunting license because of a 2008 fish and game violation.

Though it has been delisted under the Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle continues to be protected by the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service noted on its website.

The law, originally passed in 1940, provides for the protection of the bald eagle and the golden eagle, as amended in 1962, by prohibiting the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit, the website’s section about Eagles noted.

“Take” includes pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb, according to federal authorities, federal fish and wildlife officials said. The 1972 amendments increased civil penalties for violating provisions of the act to a maximum fine of $5,000 or one year imprisonment with $10,000 or not more than two years in prison for a second conviction.

Felony convictions carry a maximum fine of $250,000 or two years of imprisonment. The fine doubles for an organization. Rewards are provided for information leading to arrest and conviction for violation of the act.

The bald eagle also is protected under two other federal laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act, the federal fish and wildlife service said.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act carries out the United States’ commitment to four international conventions with Canada, Japan, Mexico and Russia that protect birds that migrate across international borders.

The Lacey Act, which was passed in 1900, makes it a federal offense to take, possess, transport, sell, import or export bald eagles’ nests, eggs and parts that are taken in violation of any state, tribal or U.S. law.

The act prohibits false records, labels or identification of wildlife to be shipped, prohibits importation of injurious species and prohibits shipment of fish or wildlife in an inhumane manner.

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