DNA evidence helps convict York County trophy-buck poacher

York, Pa. — Michael Sponseller Jr.,
19, of East Berlin, Adams County, was found guilty and sentenced to
pay $1,100 in fines and $5,000 in replacement costs for the
unlawful poaching of a trophy-class white-tailed deer in York
County, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission
officials. 

 

The sentence was handed down, on June
29, by Senior Magisterial District Judge Roger Estep, after a
hearing in West Manchester Township, York County. Sponseller also
faces revocation of hunting privileges for up to six
years.

Sponseller was found
guilty of unlawful taking and possession of game or wildlife;
unlawful devices and methods for using a motor vehicle to locate
the deer; trespass on private property while hunting; and false or
fraudulent statements on reports.

In September 2009,
Sponseller and another individual were travelling in a vehicle on
Hoke’s Mill Road in West Manchester Township, when they spotted a
16-point white-tailed deer in an adjacent field from the
roadway. 

 

Sponseller stalked and killed the
deer, using archery equipment, during a closed season. The
defendant took possession of the unlawfully killed trophy buck and
claimed to have killed the deer during the open archery deer season
in Lycoming County. 

Game Commission
Wildlife Conservation Officer Chad Eyler, of York County, and
Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer Robert Simmonds received
information regarding the unlawful killing of the 16-point buck and
began an investigation in October. 

 

Eyler and Simmonds found that the
trophy class deer was indeed unlawfully killed during the closed
season for deer in September.

 

Eyler and Simmonds, along with Game
Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Darren David, of Adams
County, retrieved evidence of the illegal killing, including the
16-point rack, the cape, and numerous other items that pointed to
the unlawful killing of the deer. 

A West Manchester
Township police officer contacted Eyler and informed him that he
possessed a set of 14-point white-tailed deer shed antlers that
were found in the early part of 2009 in the vicinity of the
unlawfully killed 16-point buck. 

 

The officer believed these to be the
sheds from the unlawfully killed 16-point buck. 

 

“White-tailed deer shed their antlers
on an annual basis,” Eyler said. “The sheds were found about one
mile from the place of the unlawful
killing.”

Eyler and Simmonds
inspected the 14-point antlers, along with certified Boone and
Crockett Club Official scorers, and had each rack measured for
their green score. 

 

The green score for the 16-point rack
was 175 7/8.  The score for 14-point shed rack, which was turned
over to Eyler by the West Manchester Township Police Officer, was
151 3/8. 

For a white-tailed
deer to be considered a trophy-class buck, it must Boone and
Crockett green score at 115.  According to the Pennsylvania Big
Game Records Book for 2009, the 16-point trophy class buck would
have ranked 16th in the Non-typical White-tailed Deer-Archery
Category, had the deer been killed in a legal
manner.

Eyler and Simmonds
submitted both the 16-point rack from the unlawfully killed deer
that the defendant claimed to have killed in Lycoming County, and
the 14-point shed rack that was found in York County, to Dr. Jane
Huffman, director of the Northeast Wildlife DNA Laboratory, Applied
DNA Sciences, East Stroudsburg University, to compare DNA from each
rack to see if the racks were from the same
deer. 

 

After DNA extraction from both sets
of antlers, Dr. Huffman determined that the racks were from the
same deer.

This evidence, coupled
with additional expert testimony at the hearing, proved that the
16-point deer lived in and was unlawfully killed in York County,
not the more than 110 air miles away in Lycoming County, as the
defendant alleged. 

Eyler and Simmonds
filed the charges on Sponseller at the conclusion of the
investigation in March. 

Due to the 16-point
buck being considered trophy-class under Game Commission
regulations, upon conviction, Sponseller was sentenced to not only
pay the $1,100 in fines, but also to pay $5,000 in replacement
costs for the unlawful killing. 

The replacement costs
were adopted by the Board to enhance penalties associated with
poaching and deter poaching activity. 

 

All costs that were associated with
the DNA services that were provided by The Northeast Wildlife DNA
Laboratory were paid for by the members of the Pennsylvania Deer
Association.

“This case took months
of investigation, DNA analysis, evidence collection, interviews and
legal preparation,” Eyler said. “While we are pleased with the
successful conclusion of this case and the fact that Sponseller was
held accountable for his crime, this is an unfortunate example of
how one violator can steal wildlife from legitimate hunters and
others who enjoy seeing wildlife in Pennsylvania. 

Facts from the Pennsylvania
Game Commission.”

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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