BELFAST, Maine — It didn’t take long Monday afternoon for a Waldo County jury to decide the fate of a Master Maine Guide and Maine State Prison guard who was accused of aggravated animal cruelty against a bobcat.
Less than an hour after the conclusion of the daylong trial, the jury in Waldo County Superior Court returned with a verdict against 46-year-old Randall Carl of Knox: guilty.
Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker said after the sentencing that the February 2009 incident, during which Carl and three other men had used the illegally trapped bobcat in a failed effort to train their bluetick coonhounds, can’t be justified in any way.
Carl tethered the caged bobcat to a pole with a rope wrapped around its neck. He let the bobcat out of the cage, shown in a home video that was taken of the training experiment, and hunting dogs attacked and killed it.
“I think most people who are hunters, like myself, would be most offended by the conduct of these guys,” Walker said. “It gives us all a bad name.”
Carl’s defense attorney Walter McKee of Augusta characterized the event very differently, describing it as an unfortunate incident. After the sentencing, he said that he was surprised and disappointed with the verdict.
“The evidence from all the witnesses said this was an accident,” McKee said.
Juror Mary Brann said after the trial that she’s not against trapping or hunting but what she saw in the video was “brutal.”
“It was illegal activity, and it was cruelty to animals,” she said. “As a Maine Guide, as the highest level of Maine Guide — really, that was not good behavior.”
The jurors also found that Carl, who in the past has worked as an animal control officer in the western Maine town of Vienna, was guilty of a closed-season trapping violation.
Justice Robert Murray sentenced Carl after the verdict was returned. Carl, who his attorney said will lose his job with the Department of Corrections because he is now a convicted felon, was sentenced to 15 months in prison with all but 10 days suspended. Additionally, he will pay $1,325 in fines and fees and spend two years on probation, during which time he will be prohibited from using or possessing hunting dogs or hunting or trapping equipment. He also will be barred from hunting, trapping or guiding activities during this time.
Carl was not the first person to be sentenced on charges stemming from the incident. Last October, his friend and fellow prison guard Corey Robinson, 30, of Montville also was found guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals and a closed-season trapping violation by a different Waldo County jury. Robinson received the same sentence but is appealing the verdict, according to Walker.
On Monday, jurors twice watched the video of the bobcat being killed by the dogs. The incident had been taped by Vernon Travis Smith of Burnham, who told the court that he hadn’t hidden his camera from the other men present.
Smith had pleaded guilty to a closed-season trapping charge and paid a fine on that matter.
The video depicted the tethered bobcat being killed by a pack of four howling, barking bluetick coonhounds within minutes of being let out of a cage. Originally, Carl told the court that the men had tried to drag the caged bobcat over the snow in an effort to train the dogs to follow the scent, but that didn’t work. Then the men decided to hoist the caged bobcat up a tree, and they kept it there for between three and five minutes, he said.
Noisy, intense video taken of this showed the pack of coonhounds jumping at the hissing bobcat, dangling in the cage. The men egged on their dogs by shouting words of encouragement: “Get him, Utah!” “Get him, Smoke!”
Then they lowered the animal and Carl attached a “catchpole” he had made to control the bobcat.
“I was going to release the animal off the pole,” he told the court.
But the rope affixed to the pole and looped around the bobcat’s neck started to inadvertently choke it, he said.
“As I pulled the animal out, the dogs were there and attacked it,” Carl said. “It wouldn’t have been no training exercise at that point.”
The training goal was to teach the dogs to follow a scent trail that was laid on the ground, he said.
McKee pointed out that the dogs were all wearing tracking collars and the men wouldn’t have bothered with that if they had intended for the dogs to kill the bobcat right away.
“I didn’t think we were going to dispatch the animal,” Carl said.
He said that he was paying more attention to try to keep the bobcat from strangling and less attention to the dogs, which he had figured were being restrained with leashes. Two of the four dogs belonged to him.
During his cross-examination, Walker asked the defendant if the outcome of the incident was “completely foreseeable.”
“Not by me,” Carl responded.
In his closing arguments, McKee repeated some of the themes of his defense: namely, that it is impossible to apply the law of man to the law of the wild.
“This was a training situation that went awry,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t morally debased. Animals get shot. Get shot with guns, or with arrows. You can do things to animals you would never do to humans … the rest of the story in this case is that this was an accident. Every witness said the same thing: ‘We didn’t expect it to happen this way.’”
But Walker, in his closing arguments, vehemently disagreed.
“An accident is something that’s unseen or unavoidable,” he said. “This was not an accident. It is not hunting. It is not trapping. This bobcat suffered. This conduct was uncalled for. It was illegal.”