Charges amended in Point Hope caribou slaughter

Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Prosecutors have amended charges against defendants in the Point Hope caribou waste case.

The Anchorage Daily News reported documents filed in the case last week indicate one of the accused will plead guilty to a reduced charge, two have had some charges dismissed, and trial for three remaining defendants will be held before a judge instead of a jury.

Charges were brought after investigators say 37 carcasses were left in July 2008 on the tundra outside the Inupiat village 330 miles southwest of Barrow.

Three men are scheduled to face a judge in Point Hope the week of Feb. 1.

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Peterson said in the court filing, the state intends to go to trial on a "liability violation" basis, which requires only a judge, not a jury. The decision also removes potential jail time if the defendants are convicted.

The defendants and their lawyers have characterized the charges as an attack on subsistence rights, saying any caribou meat left behind was from sick animals that posed health risks to the community.

So far, three of the men - Lazarus Killigvuk, 26, Randy Oktollik, 27, and Brett Oktollik, 21 - have pleaded guilty to failure to salvage meat in exchange for fines and community service.

Now a fourth man, Koomalook Stone, 19, has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of failure to salvage, according to court documents. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Stone will be required to pay $2,210 in fines and restitution and complete 120 hours of community service.

The case against one man has been dismissed. Superior Court Judge Richard Erlich said prosecutors presented evidence only that Roy Oktollik, 19, failed to salvage meat, not that he was involved in killing caribou. Both components are required to prove the crime, the judge wrote.

Two other defendants - Chester Koonuk, 30, and Roy Miller, 20 - also sought to have charges dismissed on similar grounds.

In a split decision, Erlich dismissed one count of failure to salvage against each man. The cases against Koonuk and Miller, who were with Aqquilluk Hank, 31, on a separate hunt from the other defendants, had different facts, the judge wrote.

Koonuk and Miller have acknowledged, according to prosecutors, that they were hunting with Hank. But both denied killing a caribou, Erlich wrote. For that reason, there is evidence that they may have been involved as accomplices but not that they killed caribou themselves, the judge ruled.

The ruling and plea agreement mean only Hank, Koonuk and Miller are scheduled to face the judge.

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