It took a Waldo County jury a little more than an hour to decide the fate of a Maine Master Guide and state prison guard who was accused of aggravated animal cruelty relating to a February 2009 incident involving a bobcat.

Randall Carl, 46, of Knox was found guilty of aggravated animal cruelty following his daylong trial at Waldo County Superior Court Monday, according to Carl’s defense attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta.

Carl, who McKee said chose to be sentenced on the same day of his trial, was sentenced to serve 15 months in prison with all but 10 days suspended and two years of probation.

Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker said conditions of Carl’s probation state he cannot possess or use hunting dogs or hunting or trapping equipment. Carl was also ordered not to engage in any hunting, trapping or guiding activities during that time, Walker said.

McKee said since aggravated cruelty to animals is a felony, Carl will also be penalized professionally.

“As a result he’ll lose his job,” said McKee, adding that Carl will also likely be barred from continuing his services as a Master Maine Guide.

Carl was also found guilty of a closed-season trapping violation, for which he was ordered to serve a concurrent 10-days, McKee said.

The case stemmed from an incident that occurred in Unity in February 2009, when Carl and two other men transported a caged bobcat to a wooded area in Unity with the intention of using the animal to train their hunting dogs.

“They were going to release it and have the dogs run on its trail,” said McKee Tuesday morning.

The original plan was to lead the bobcat further up the trail, away from the dogs, and then release the animal to begin the tracking exercise. But, McKee said, that plan went awry and when Carl eventually used a catchpole to release the bobcat from the cage, the animal became entangled in the rope that was around its neck.

“The dogs immediately descended on it. It happened very quickly,” said McKee, adding that the event took approximately three minutes. “My client thought that everybody else was holding the dogs back.”

Walker disagreed with the defense’s argument that the bobcat’s death was accidental when he spoke with The Journal Tuesday morning, during which time he played a series of videos that were shot by one of Carl’s two co-defendants, Vernon Travis Smith of Clinton.

Smith pleaded guilty to a closed-season trapping violation and paid a fine for that offense, Walker said, and Smith has since cooperated with the investigation and subsequent trial, testifying at Carl’s trial as well as that of the third co-defendant, 30-year-old Corey Robinson of Montville.

Like Carl, Robinson was convicted on an aggravated animal cruelty charge and was also found guilty of a closed season trapping violation Oct. 25, 2011, at which time he was ordered to serve a sentence that was identical to the penalty Carl received in court Monday. Walker said Robinson is appealing his case.

The first video showed the caged bobcat in Smith’s garage on the evening of Feb. 12, 2009, and a separate video showed Carl standing next to a tree with the bobcat secured in the cage, which was hanging from a rope slung over a low branch on Feb. 13, 2009.

Walker said witnesses at the trial stated the original idea was to drag the bobcat through the woods some distance away to create a scent trail for the young hounds to follow, but that plan didn’t work because it proved difficult to pull the animal through the snow.

“So they went to plan B,” said Walker.

That plan, as shown in the video, was to raise the cage off the ground and into a small tree.

“That was meant to simulate treeing a bobcat,” Walker said.

Four hounds — two of which Walker said belonged to Carl — could be seen in the video barking loudly, and at times the men could be heard encouraging the dogs as they howled in unison at the bobcat.

The final video, which Walker said was played in the courtroom for no more than 60 seconds, the hounds encircled the cage with the bobcat still inside. Carl then used a catchpole to secure the bobcat and drag it out of the cage, at which time the unleashed dogs leapt into action, attacking the hissing bobcat as it unsuccessfully tried to fight back and escape from the rope on the catchpole that was tightening on its neck as it struggled.

While the judge ordered the video be played for the jury for no more than a minute, Walker said it took much longer for the attack to end.

“This goes on for three to five minutes before the cat finally dies,” said Walker.

The video showed the dogs were not secured on leashes, and it wasn’t until the conclusion of the 60-second clip that the men could be seen reaching for their dogs in attempts to stop the attack.

“It was a pretty gruesome video, and it was a pretty gruesome death,” said Walker. “And this was all done out of season.”

Walker argued the actions of the men were not those of inexperienced hunters and trappers, pointing out both Carl and Robinson were licensed as Maine guides. Robinson, like Carl, was also employed as a corrections officer at Maine State Prison in Warren.

“You can’t trap them out of season, you can’t keep them in your home, and you certainly couldn’t use them as a live training aid,” said Walker. “That’s illegal.”

That said, Walker said he does not believe it was ever the intention of the hunters to release the bobcat back into the wild.

McKee, however, said Carl and his hunting party never intended to kill the bobcat.

“The dogs had tracking collars on and everything,” said McKee.

Carl, McKee said, has been hunting since he was 10 years old and is also an experienced trapper, and neither Carl nor his co-defendants had any prior criminal record. Additionally, McKee said all of the witnesses who testified Monday consistently stated the events of February 2009 were unintentional.

“There were really no factual disputes in this case, in terms of what happened before, during or after [the incident],” McKee said.

So when the jury verdict was handed to Justice Robert Murray Monday afternoon, McKee said his client was “surprised and disappointed” at the jury’s finding.

McKee said one of the points raised at Carl’s trial was the question of whether Carl acted with “depraved indifference” during the incident, a question to which McKee said the answer was easily “no.”

“Hunting and trapping animals is a very violent practice in it of itself, and it’s perfectly legal,” he said. “It’s not pretty, by all accounts.”

Walker, who is an avid hunter himself, disagreed with McKee’s perspective on that aspect of the case.

“I think the people who would take particular offense to that are other hunters,” he said. “… That gives us all a really, really bad name.”

 

Republican Journal reporter Tanya Mitchell can be reached at 338-3333 or tmitchell@villagesoup.com.