Man Gets Nine Months In Prison For Killing Eagle

August 27, 2001

Wildlife Detective Work and Forensic Science Expose Family Secrets

       Tallahassee, FL. - Toby Lee Dalton,21, of Eastpoint and Willie Pelt, 19, of Port St. Joe Florida were convicted and sentenced for the shooting and killing of an adult male Bald Eagle in United States District Court in Tallahassee, Florida. The men killed the eagle with a .22 magnum rifle in Eastpoint last year on October 15, 2000. The sentencing completes a year-long joint investigation by Special Agents of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) Officers.

The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida charged both subjects with violating the United States Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (EPA), 16 USC 668 (a). Both men pled guilty in U.S. District Court on 04/25/01. Under the EPA the men could have received a maximum penalty of one year in Federal Prison, and up to a $100,000 fine. The Bald Eagle is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. District Court Judge Hinkle sentenced Dalton to 9 months in Federal Prison. Pelt was sentenced to 18 months probation, 50 hours of Community service at the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, and forfeiture of the .22 Magnum Rifle used to kill the eagle. Dalton had initially reported the dead Bald Eagle to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as a good Samaritan. Further investigation by Special Agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Division of Law Enforcement noted inconsistencies in his story making Dalton the prime suspect. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Crime Scene Unit conducted an examination of the area where the eagle was found and recovered .22 magnum rifle cartridge, which later proved to have been the killing shot.

After executing a Federal search warrant on Dalton's home, conducting numerous interviews, following difficult leads and acting on information provided by a concerned public, USFWS agents recovered the rifle used to kill the eagle from Dalton's first cousin, Willie Pelt. Ballistic tests conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Forensics Laboratory, and the FDLE Crime Laboratory proved the cartridge recovered at the crime scene and bullet fragments recovered from the eagle matched Pelt's rifle. Faced with the evidence, Pelt confessed to participating in the crime, stating that Dalton shot the eagle out of a pine tree, "to test the sights on the new rifle." Pelt admitted to administering the coupe de gras to the eagle with a point-blank bullet to the breast after Dalton's first shot knocked it from a pine tree breaking the bird's wing. After learning of Pelt's confession, Dalton admitted his involvement in the eagle's death.

Sam Hamilton, Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeastern Region stated: "The Service is committed to protecting and conserving our Nation's fish and wildlife resources and will do everything within it's power to apprehend those who criminally exploit our precious natural heritage. My thanks to the Office of the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and to the Special Agents of the Service's Division of Law Enforcement for bringing to justice those who wantonly killed a living symbol of America's freedom."

The Bald Eagle was brought back from the brink of extinction through efforts to ban the use of the pesticide DDT, which was damaging the eagle's eggs, and through the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act.

The Bald Eagle is a federally protected species which is also protected under Florida Law. The bald eagle is afforded protection under three federal statutes. The Eagle Protection Act, The Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Killing or wounding an eagle is a violation of all three acts. Florida Statute 372.0725 makes it a third degree felony to kill or wound any species designated as endangered or threatened under Florida Law. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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