Man Accused in Bird Killing Spree Skips Court

Arrest warrant issued by federal judge after he doesn't show up for Montana hearing
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 13, 2023 4:25 PM CST
Updated Jan 9, 2024 10:35 AM CST
Prosecutors: Men Shot Eagles for Black Market
A bald eagle in Montana   (Getty/Wirestock)
UPDATE Jan 9, 2024 10:35 AM CST

One of two men in Montana accused of illegally killing thousands of birds is now a fugitive. Simon Paul, 42, failed to show up for a court appearance on Monday, prompting the federal judge in the case to issue an arrest warrant for him, reports USA Today. Alleged accomplice Travis John Branson, 48, pleaded not guilty.

Dec 13, 2023 4:25 PM CST

Federal prosecutors say two men killed thousands of birds, including federally protected bald eagles, on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana and sold them on the black market. Simon Paul and Travis John Branson were indicted by a grand jury last week, NBC News reports. Each faces one conspiracy count, 13 counts of violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and one count of violating the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits trafficking in illegally taken wildlife. A court filing says the bald eagle "is not merely a bird of biological interest, but this country's national symbol, which reflects America's ideals of freedom."

Officials put the toll at about 3,600 birds between January 2019 and March 2021. The government did not specify how many were eagles, per the New York Times. Paul did the shooting, then handled the shipping, the charges state. In one instance, they're accused of using a deer carcass to lure eagles. The filing describes the men as filling an order for a golden eagle from Texas, per KTVQ. Prosecutors said messages show Branson telling buyers he was "on a killing spree" to obtain eagle tail feathers and saying he was "committing felonies." The charges carry potential prison sentences and fines; the men are due in court Jan. 8. (More eagles stories.)

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