Charges reduced for defendant in caribou wasting case

James Halpin

Documents filed on the brink of the trial in the Point Hope caribou waste case indicate another of the accused will plead guilty to a reduced violation, two others have had some charges dismissed and the three remaining defendants facing trial will not go before a jury.

Prosecutors late last week filed amended charges against the remaining defendants reducing the severity of accusations that they failed to salvage edible meat from Class-A misdemeanors to noncriminal violations. As a result, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Peterson said in a court filing, the state intends to go to trial on a "liability violation" basis, which requires only a judge, not a jury, to hear the case.

"The state is providing this notice to the court so that the court does not send out jury notices as it will not be necessary to call a jury for these trials," Peterson wrote. Peterson declined to comment Tuesday on the decision, which also removes potential jail time if the defendants are convicted.

A jury trial had been scheduled early next month in Point Hope, an Inupiat Eskimo community 330 miles southwest of Barrow. According to state investigators, village leaders and citizens refused to cooperate with the investigation into 37 caribou carcasses left on the tundra outside town in July 2008.

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, Roy Oktollik, 19, has been dismissed. Superior Court Judge Richard Erlich said prosecutors presented evidence only that Roy Oktollik 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 admitted, 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 in Point Hope the week of Feb. 1.