The last of four principal suspects charged in a 2017 state investigation into a sprawling Washington-Oregon based poaching ring has pleaded guilty and been sentenced.
“We’re happy it’s done,” Skamania County Prosecutor Adam Kick said Friday. “It was a lot of work, but it was also really important work. We really tip our hats, want to congratulate the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. ... They did all the work and it was really an outstanding investigation that resulted in the defendants feeling the need to plead guilty rather than go to trial.”
Erik Martin of Longview pleaded guilty May 30 to three counts each of first-degree big-game hunting, illegal hunting with the aid of dogs and wasting fish and wildlife. He was sentenced to pay $6,800 in fines and spend four months in jail with the opportunity to enter a work-release program, meaning he can leave confinement during the day for work to pay off his fine.
Authorities dropped 19 similar charges.
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 of Southwest Washington and allegedly killed more than 50 animals.
The initial WDFW investigation led to accusations of the killing of dozens of deer, elk, bears and bobcats. Investigators found a trove of digital evidence after William Haynes and Martin filmed and photographed more than 20 alleged brutal killings. In some cases, bears were still alive as dogs gnawed on their flesh, according to WDFW sergeant Brad Rhoden. Investigators have said that many of the dogs used in the hunts belonged to Joseph or Eddy Dills.
Martin was the last of the four Longview men identified as the major defendants to be sentenced in the Washington portion of the investigation. The other three have already pleaded guilty and been sentenced in Skamania County, according to court records, where the majority of the criminal charges in the Washington portion of the investigation were filed. They include:
- Joseph Dills, who was sentenced in April to one year in jail and fined $14,000 for 12 hunting related charges.
- Eddy Dills, who was sentenced in November to 23 days of home confinement and seven days in jail, and fined $2,600 for three hunting related charges.
- William Haynes, who was sentenced in February to a year in jail and $14,800 in fines for 15 hunting related charges.
The four men will be allowed to serve parts of their sentences on work-release, and they could all face stiffer penalties and more jail time if they violate terms of their sentences. Each was also required to submit to a mandatory interview with the WDFW, which could prove crucial to the investigation and any remaining poaching cases.
“For the most part, the defendants have done what they’re supposed to do,” Kick said. “Nobody’s done anything to bring the court back in.”
All four Longview men also have been sentenced in the Oregon side of the investigation. Martin, Haynes and Joseph Dills all pleaded guilty in their cases. Eddy Dills is the only defendant who maintained his innocence in the Oregon cases. He was convicted by a jury in Wasco County and sentenced in April to 30 days in jail. He has appealed.
Haynes received a sentence that will run entirely concurrent with his Washington punishment. Assistant Oregon Department of Justice attorney Patrick Flanagan said that was due in part to “his significant cooperation in the course of the investigation” and lack of prior convictions. Martin’s Oregon sentence will run partially concurrent with his Washington time, Flanagan said, and Joseph Dills received an entirely separate sentence, meaning that after his year in jail in Washington concludes, he will serve an additional six months in Oregon.
Between the four men, prosecutors in Skamania county alone initially filed 179 charges for illegal hunting activity from 2015 through 2017.
Most of those counts were dropped because trials involving dozens of charges can take monumental time and resources to prepare for, and don’t necessarily result in stronger punishment, Kick said. Jail and prison time for most charges in Washington state must be served concurrently, so the defendants’ jail time could have been the same whether they were convicted of 15 or 100 violations.
“That’s kind of what I meant by diminishing returns. At some point, you max out what the judge is going to sentence somebody,” Kick said. “The original charging documents alone were overwhelming and took enormous amounts of time to actually prepare. Most cases are one to five counts.”
Kick admits that initially, he “was not completely satisfied with the sentences” the four received. But that changed after officials from WDFW indicated they were pleased with the results.
“We worked really closely with them through the whole process. They appeared at all the sentencings, all the plea agreements, they were part of the negotiation. They gave us a thumbs up or thumbs down (on each agreement) ... and they seemed to be pretty pleased with the results.”