DNA Test Aids in Conviction of Rock Springs Poacher
Thanks to persistence, old-fashioned investigative work, conscientious witnesses and high-tech DNA testing, a Rock Springs man has faced the consequences for poaching a buck mule deer and conducting an elaborate ruse on where it was killed.
Dustin W. Moses, 24, appeared in front of Circuit Court Judge Victoria Schofield on July 27 and was sentenced to a $10,000 fine, $30 court costs, a suspended 180-day jail sentence, $4,000 restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and a five-year suspension of his hunting privileges.
Ggame wWarden Brian Baker says his efforts to bring Moses to justice began in October 2003.
“I received a report on October 6 that an individual had killed a buck mule deer in the Elk Butte area of deer Hhunt aArea (HA) 102 south of Rock Springs,” says Baker. “Hunt area 102 is a limited quota hunting area and anyone who killed a deer in that area is required to have a limited quota permit. In addition, that hunt area did not open until October 15.”
Baker says witnesses were able to take down the license plate and description of a vehicle leaving the area at a high rate of speed and also recognized the two men in the vehicle. The witnesses were able to help Baker backtrack the suspect’s tire tracks to a location in HA 102, where residents only had an 11 percent chance of drawing a deer license in 2004.
“We found the site where a deer had been killed underneath a juniper tree. We were able to locate footprints, a blood trail, tissue samples from a deer and drag marks,” says Baker. “The site was strange in that a deer obviously had died there, but there was no gut pile. I took photographs of the crime scene, collected biological samples and took GPS coordinates where the evidence was located. The next step was to interview the suspect.
“Moses denied that he killed a deer in HA 102 and insisted he killed a deer in HA 131, a gGeneral hunt area north of Rock Springs. So, I asked him to take me to the site where he killed ‘“his”’ deer in HA 131.”
Moses, who works at a Rock Springs auto dealership, took Baker to a gut pile on the Hay Ranch. “I noticed the gut pile had juniper leaves stuck to the outside of it and there was not a juniper visible in any direction from the gut pile,” Baker says. “Then he showed me a deer in his grandfather’s garage that he claimed he had killed at the location of the gut pile in deer HA 131.”
Baker added the 5-by-5 deer was tagged with a Resident General Deer License and the date on the tag was Oct. 5, 2003. Baker took samples of the deer’s head and cape.
“Biological samples were submitted to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Laboratory in Laramie,” Baker said. “The lab concluded the DNA sample from the site of the poaching in HA 102, the gut pile Moses showed me in HA131 and the deer head and cape in his grandfather’s garage all came from the same deer.”
G&F officers served a search warrant and issued Moses a citation in November 2003 for taking an antlered mule deer in a closed area and without a proper license. Moses chose to contest the citation and take it in front of a judge and jury, and on July 29, 2004, was convicted of taking an antlered mule deer in a closed area and without a proper license. However, through various legal motions, Moses’ attorney was able to delay the sentencing another year.
Baker is thankful for the outcome of the case and acknowledges his investigation had solid leads from the start due to very observant witnesses, plenty of evidence and the skilled lab scientists trained to use DNA testing in wildlife forensics.
“Moses got caught and justice was served,” Baker said. “Witnesses saw him and his vehicle leaving the site of where the deer was poached. He left plenty of evidence to demonstrate he was lying. G&F lab technicians are good at DNA testing and have helped in many wildlife crime convictions.
“I’m thankful to the Sweetwater County Chief Deputy Attorney Tony Howard for his persistence and professionalism through almost two years of dealing with this case. The judge clearly laid out the importance of the hunting heritage in Wyoming and the need for conservation ethics. Honest hunters and people who care about the wildlife can be reassured that poachers do get caught and they will pay the price.”