There is no way around it, Billy Powell got hosed.
I am not saying that when the Jacksonville businessman and former deer breeder illegally brought 41 white-tailed deer onto his property he wasn't wrong. He was.
Worthey Wiles, the 42-year-old University Park hunter, was a guest at the exclusive St. Charles Bay Hunting Club on January 12 when he shot the juvenile crane, thinking it was a more common sandhill crane. Wiles was hunting waters around San Jose Island that are closed to crane hunting because of its proximity to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of the largest migratory flock of whooping cranes.
Whooping cranes are an endangered species. Less than 600 exist, but only about 437 are in migratory flocks. This year only 257 of the birds made the migration to Texas. Thirty-four of those were juvenile birds.
In defense of Wiles, he did turn himself into a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden. Ultimately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took over the case.
Wiles pleaded guilty in a Corpus Christi federal court Wednesday and was ordered to pay $5,000 in fines and $10,000 restitution payment to the Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuges. He was also ordered to serve a year's probation.
Now compare it to what the Fish and Wildlife Service did to Powell. In a plea agreement for importing dime-a-dozen white-tailed deer Powell was ordered to pay a total of $1 million for four Lacey Act violations, $500,000 in restitution to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, destroy 1,300 straws of deer semen valued at almost $1 million and destroy more than 300 deer that could be tied to the original 41. Powell was also put on six months house arrest and three years probation.
Ok, one difference. Powell didn't admit guilt upfront, but still there are millions of deer in Texas alone. There are less than 600 whooping cranes on Earth.
I am not blaming Wiles. He stood up and took the punishment that was dealt him. The question that needs to be asked, why was it so light? He faced a maximum criminal punishment of $100,000 and a year in a federal cross bar motel.
Again, that shooter initially denied involvement.
Here is a different perspective. In 2004 another Dallas man pleaded guilty to killing a whooper in Ellis County. He was ordered by a federal judge then to pay a $2,000 fine, $8,100.50 in civil restitution and spend six months in federal prison. The prison time is the real difference.
This all falls under the argument that not all crimes are the same, but it does point out that in Texas, at least, a white-tailed deer carries a lot more value than one of the last surviving members of bird species.
It also sounds as if more value is put on human character than the seriouness of the crime.
Interestingly, had Wiles been tried in state court he would have faced a higher restitution charge of $12,900 for the bird.
The Wiles case has been bizarre from the beginning, meaning a month after the shooting occurred. There was no publicity from TPWD or FWS when Wiles turned himself in. When TPWD did put up a press release it was a month later and it was on its website just one day before being pulled. Officially, the department is saying it never should have been posted in the first place.
While the feds posted a release on Wiles' sentencing there was still nothing from TPWD, although it would seem there would in an attempt to discourage others.
Powell garnered two press releases.
Looks like Powell would have come out better financially and personally had he just shot a whooping crane, or two or all 257.
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