Suspect in shooting of 5 reindeer surrenders

Man faces up to 33 years in prison, $330,000 in fines

Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2003

ANCHORAGE - A 20-year-old man suspected of killing five reindeer and wounding two more at a Butte farm in January turned himself in to authorities Friday.

Caleb G. Bennett walked into the Judicial Services office at the Palmer Courthouse shortly after 10 a.m. and said there was a warrant out for his arrest, Alaska State Troopers said. Bennett was arrested soon after in connection with the shootings at the Williams Reindeer Farm.

The death of the animals outraged the community, prompting locals to help authorities track down leads they said pointed to Bennett, who briefly worked for farm owners Tom and Gene Williams in 1998.

"We're delighted," Gene Williams. "It's nice that they won't have to extradite him, that he decided to face the music and turned himself in."

Bennett was arraigned Friday afternoon on five counts of criminal mischief, seven counts of animal cruelty and one count of weapons misconduct. He faces up to 33 years in prison and $330,000 in fines.

Troopers launched a search for Bennett in March following a two-month investigation. They also learned he might have left the state, possibly to join his mother at her home in Louisville, Ky., Sgt. Dennis Ponder said.

It just so happened trooper Lt. Rick Roberts was attending the Southern Police Institute in Louisville. So he paid a visit to Bennett's mother, who denied her son was there, troopers said.

Roberts notified his Alaska colleagues March 27, the day before the arrest warrant for Bennett was issued, Ponder said.

After surfacing Friday, Bennett was taken to the Mat-Su Pre-Trial Facility, where he was being held on $50,000 bail.

The reindeer were shot with a .22-caliber rifle in the early morning hours of Jan. 31. One of the animals was killed immediately, two others had to be euthanized and two more died of their wounds the next day.

Troopers believe Bennett was the snowmachiner who stopped at the fence of the farm, shot the animals, then sped off.

Farm owner Tom Williams followed the snowmachine in a vehicle up and down roads in the Butte area, south of Palmer, until he lost it an hour later. It was too dark at the time for him to identify the rider.

One local man was so upset about the shootings he spent several hours that morning following the suspect's distinctive tracks. Those tracks led to the Juniper Street home of Bennett's father and stepmother, Ponder said.

Another Butte resident reported her cable service was cut off that morning. Repair crews found a damaged cable box and parts of a snowmachine.

Troopers found a damaged snowmachine at the Juniper Street home. They also found firearms, including one that matched the cartridges left at the reindeer farm.

"Butte is a pretty good place to be," Gene Williams said. "It's a place where people are willing to do what's right to fix the wrong things that people do."

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