STEVENSON, Wash. — William Haynes, one of roughly a dozen individuals implicated in 2017’s massive poaching investigation in Washington and Oregon, pleaded guilty Thursday morning to 15 charges related to illegally hunting big game with dogs and leaving the corpses to rot.
Haynes, a Longview resident, will be sentenced on Feb. 28, but his plea in Skamania County Superior Court leaves only one major defendant in the Washington portion of the massive, high-profile case.
For several minutes, Skamania County Superior Court Judge Randall Krog read off 15 charges spanning Haynes’ alleged illegal hunting activity from August 2015 and September 2016, each time asking Haynes for his plea. All 15 times, Haynes replied: “Guilty.”
“That’s the most I’ve ever heard someone plead guilty to,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Captain Jeff Wickersham, one of the WDFW authorities who investigated the poaching ring, which authorities allege operated in Cowlitz, Skamania and Lewis counties. All four major defendants are Cowlitz County residents.
Five of Haynes’ charges were felonies, and it’s “very rare” for someone to plead guilty to even one felony fish and wildlife crime, Wickersham said.
The prosecution and defense agreed to recommend a year-long jail sentence for Haynes, 25, but his sentencing was put off because he is expected to testify in an Oregon case involving another alleged poaching ring member. He had previously maintained a not-guilty plea since he was charged late in 2017. Haynes was previously convicted of second-degree unlawful hunting of big game in Cowlitz County in 2013.
One of the requirements of his plea deal is an interview with Fish and Wildlife officials.
If Judge Krog accepts the recommendation, Haynes would also lose his right to own firearms or own hunting dogs and be required to not contact Erik Martin or father-and-son duo Eddy and Joseph Dills, three of the other alleged major members of the ring. He would likely lose his hunting privileges as well.
Martin, the last of the group of four awaiting adjudication of his case in Skamania County, had been expected to reverse his plea and admit guilt Thursday. However, Martin is currently serving a sentence in Oregon, and a scheduling or transportation conflict may have led to him not appearing in court Thursday, Wickersham said.
Haynes, Martin and the Dills also all face fish and game violations in Oregon stemming from the same investigation.
Haynes, Martin and the Dills were four of the original seven suspects charged in the investigation. Many of the dogs used in hunting belonged to Joseph or Eddy Dills, and many of the killings of wild game were recorded or found on Haynes’ and Martin’s electronic devices.
Skamania County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Dan McGill told Judge Krog on Thursday that Haynes was part of a poaching ring which, over the course of two or three years, hunted year-round for black bears with hounds and left their carcasses to rot.
Prosecutors across at least seven counties in Washington and Oregon have filed cases against roughly one dozen people alleged to have been involved in the ring, which operated mostly in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and allegedly killed more than 50 animals.
The investigation led to accusations of the killing of dozens of deer, elk, bears and bobcats. Investigators found a trove of digital evidence after Haynes and Martin filmed and photographed more than 20 alleged brutal killings. In some cases, bears were still alive as Dill’s dogs gnawed on their flesh, according to Washington Fish and Wildlife Sergeant Brad Rhoden.
Haynes on Thursday pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree unlawful hunting of big game (a felony), five counts of first-degree waste of fish and wildlife (a gross misdemeanor), and five counts of illegal hunting with the aid of a dog (a gross misdemeanor).
Haynes has been cooperative with authorities, attorneys said, although he has occasionally had trouble making court dates. He was arrested earlier this month and returned to court on a bench warrant.
Jail sentences in some counties have interfered with the trial schedules for some of the accused in other counties, and Wickersham said the number of people who could be charged has changed since the investigation began.
Joseph Dills pleaded guilty in Skamania County and was convicted of four counts each of first-degree big game hunting, illegal hunting with dogs and wasting wildlife in late October. 52 other charges against him were dropped. He will be sentenced in February.
Eddy Dills pleaded guilty in Skamania County and was convicted of first-degree big game hunting, illegal hunting with dogs and wasting wildlife in November. He was sentenced to 23 days of home confinement.