Updated: January 14, 2013 at 12:00 am
An Iraq War veteran who pleaded guilty to poaching nearly a dozen pronghorn in El Paso County – and leaving their carcasses to rot in the field – was sentenced Monday to community service and three years’ probation.
“I’m sorry to the state of Colorado and to the landowners where I trespassed,” said Tyrel Lee Weber, a former Fort Carson soldier who has since been discharged from the Army.
Weber, 22, pleaded guilty last year to wildlife destruction, a felony, after admitting he had shot and killed up to 11 pronghorns east of Colorado Springs – sometimes on private property, and once after going so far as to shoot a padlock from a rancher’s gate.
The 2011 poaching spree included at least two killings along Sweet Road in eastern El Paso County and led to public appeals for information. Wildlife officials said they ended up paying out $2,500 to the tipster who led them to Weber – marking a successful use of their anonymous Operation Game Thief program.
According to an arrest affidavit, Weber was pulled over near one of the poaching sites in June 2011 after someone reporting seeing a hunter using spotlights in the dark.
Inside his vehicle were fresh pronghorn blood and hair and three guns, and Weber later agreed to point out the locations where he had shot pronghorns, according to the court document.
Weber allegedly told authorities he shot the animals because he liked having a gun in his hand and enjoyed “doing what he was trained to do.”
Fourth Judicial District Judge Thomas L. Kennedy said he considered imposing a jail term against Weber but stopped short because the former soldier ended up cooperating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife investigators.
Citing recent homicides attributed to Fort Carson soldiers, the judge ordered Weber to undergo a mental health evaluation and a “cognitive skills course” as part of his penalty, which also will include 250 hours of community service.
Weber must also reimburse wildlife officials for the cost of the reward, partly furnished with a $1,000 donation by a land owner.
“If you were hungry and killing animals to feed your family I could understand,” Kennedy said. “You need to take a long look in the mirror and understand what it is about you that makes you want to kill a defenseless animal for sport.”
Weber, who joined the Army in 2008, was injured in Iraq and ineligible to return to combat, his attorney, Jeffery L. Weeden told the court. Weber has since been discharged and plans to work as a ranch hand on an uncle’s property in Nebraska.
As a felon, Weber is barred from possessing a firearm, and he is ineligible to receive a hunting license while on parole.
Weber declined to comment through his attorney.