Iditarod champion King's trial begins

More than a dozen people make 2-hour trek to Fairbanks court

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Iditarod champion Jeff King is being tried in Fairbanks on charges that he illegally killed a moose near his home in Denali National Park and Preserve.

King, 52, who last won the Iditarod Trail Sled dog Race in 2006, does not deny taking the moose but claims it was outside of the park's boundary.

Only federally qualified subsistence users - which King is not - are allowed to hunt within park boundaries.

Attorneys for both sides spent more than seven hours Monday questioning park ranger John Leonard. He is the ranger who led the investigation into the killing of a bull moose last September. Rangers say the moose was killed 600 feet inside Denali's northern boundary.

On Monday, more than a dozen neighbors and family members made the two hour trip from Denali Park to Fairbanks for the first day of the trial presided over by Federal Magistrate Judge John D. Roberts.

Leonard recounted how he contacted King and one of his daughters while on patrol and at first had no suspicions about the musher, except that he had not validated his harvest ticket.

"He made mention that the reason he hadn't notched the harvest ticket was because he was out of practice and hadn't usually been successful in his hunts," Leonard said. "I had no reason to believe at all the moose had been poached inside the park.

The trooper issued King a ticket.

Later that day, Leonard and an Alaska Wildlife Trooper found a pile of bones just outside the park's boundary. The gut pile at the kill site was located 600 feet within the park.

"I felt that somebody snuck one out under our noses," Leonard said.

The ranger obtained a search warrant of King's home, and contacted him a few weeks later. King admitted that the moose was likely his and surrendered its rack and meat. Prosecutors played the conversation in court Monday in which King, who said he has hunted in the area for at least nine years and lived in Denali Park for 30 years, expresses his surprise at the accusations.

"I think the bottom line was that I knew it was close," King said on the tape. "I always knew it was close, but I've never seen a goddamn thing marked."

King's attorney, fellow musher Myron Angstman of Bethel, questioned the location of the park's border and the locations of metallic markers delineating the boundary.

Angstman submitted several photos into evidence showing that the markers are almost impossible to spot while walking along the border. He questioned whether the park rangers were even able to locate them when returning to the kill site in a helicopter.

"We had to look for them, yes," Leonard said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Cooper countered that a hunter would know where the park's boundaries were by using GPS coordinates available on the Denali Park Web site.

King at first told investigators that he had a GPS with him on his hunt, but later said he used only a map.

If convicted of both counts of taking wildlife in a national park and illegally operating a motor vehicle in a park, King faces up to a year in a prison and a fine of $10,000.

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