South Dakota Deer Poacher Nabbed With DNA Testing

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DNA testing isn't just for major crime scene investigations anymore. Conservation officers of the S.D. Game, Fish and Parks Department used DNA testing to make a case against a Codington County poacher.

Devin Reuer, 20, Watertown, was convicted by a Codington County jury on the charge of hunting big game without a license.

Conservation officer Martin Yost, Watertown, saw a photo of the trophy buck Reuer shot in a local store and got a tip that the deer had been taken illegally. Yost found the kill site on land in Codington County owned by Gordon Lillie. Reuer had a deer tag good for Hamlin County.

At the kill site, Yost took blood and hair samples, a procedure he goes through during every investigation. "You never know," Yost said, "where that evidence is going to lead."

In this case, it led to the WestCore lab at Black Hills State University, one of 13 forensic wildlife labs in the nation. "This case was pretty straightforward," said associate lab director Cynthia Anderson, noting that the lab had to match the DNA in two samples.

Anderson, who testified for the prosecution, explained that the lab provides DNA testing for research at BHSU and throughout the state. In addition, the lab can provide species typing as well as paternity testing when the lineage of purebred animals comes into question.

"That’s a remarkable lab that we have available," said Codington County State’s Attorney Vince Foley who prosecuted the case.

Foley said that the use of DNA testing in wildlife cases sends a clear message to would-be poachers. "It gets the word out that we have that kind of testing available to us and that we will use it," Foley said.

At a cost of about $750 for the lab's services in the Watertown case, Foley likes the DNA testing because it's affordable.

Yost likes the testing because it's irrefutable. "If we have samples from the kill site and if we have samples from the animal," Yost said, "it's evidence they can't refute because we have genetic material that says the deer mounted on their wall or in their possession was taken illegally."

The road to Reuer's conviction was a long one. He shot the deer on Dec. 4, 2005, the last day of the East River deer season. After a lengthy investigation conducted by Yost and conservation officer Kraig Haase of Hayti, Reuer was convicted on Aug. 3.

Reuer was sentenced to 10 days in jail and told to pay $250 in fines and costs. Seven days of the jail sentence were suspended on the condition that he be a law abiding citizen for one year, pay the fines and court costs and lose his hunting privileges for one year. The state will also pursue $1,000 in civil damages against Reuer.

Yost praised State's Attorney Foley for his efforts. "Vince and I met many times concerning the case and the department is very fortunate to have a state's attorney like Vince Foley who did an outstanding job prosecuting this case," Yost said.