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Skulls LEAD PHOTO

Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife agencies confiscated skulls and antlers, above, along with photos and videos of poaching from several Cowlitz County residences in March.

One of four key men implicated in a massive 2017 poaching investigation across Washington and Oregon was sentenced Thursday, and Skamania prosecutors are signalling that their long-running cases against the four may be coming to an end.

Joseph Dills, 32, was sentenced to one year in the Skamania County jail and to pay $14,000 in wildlife fines. He may be allowed to serve his jail sentence on work release in order to pay off his fine, Skamania County Prosecuting attorney Adam Kick said.

Dills is also restricted from possessing any hunting dogs or having any contact with the other three key individuals: William Haynes, Erik Martin, or his own father, Eddy Dills, for five years. And he must submit to a mandatory interview with WDFW officials, which could be crucial to the remaining WDFW poaching cases.

The WDFW 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 WDFW sergeant Brad Rhoden.

All four major defendants are Cowlitz County residents. Many of the dogs used in the hunts 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.

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.

Dills pleaded guilty in October to four counts of first-degree big game hunting, four counts of hunting wildlife with dogs, and four counts of first-degree wasting fish or wildlife. Prosecutors dropped 52 other charges. His standard range was nine to 12 months in jail, but he could have received up to five years in prison. According to court documents, he was previously sentenced in Cowlitz and Lewis counties in 2007 for misdemeanor charges of unlawful hunting.

If Dills does not comply with his sentence, the conditions could be harsher: $40,000 in fines and the revocation of his work release offer.

Haynes, who pleaded guilty in January to 15 counts spanning illegal hunting and hunting with dogs, was sentenced to a year in jail, with the last nine months of the term eligible for work release. He will have to pay $14,800 in fines (with $50,000 more if he violates the terms of his sentence) and submit to a WDFW interview.

“Every sentence that we’ve had, it’s my understanding ... they all are required to basically make truthful statements and submit themselves to interviews with the WDFW,” Kick, the Skamania prosecutor, said Thursday.

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.

The last major case to be resolved in Skamania county is Martin’s, Kick said. He is scheduled for trial May 13 over 28 counts of hunting-related charges, according to court records.

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