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Oct. 10, 2008

DNA Evidence Leads To Deer Poaching Conviction

AUSTIN, Texas — On Oct. 1, an Angelina County jury sentenced David Peters, 35, of Zavalla to two years in state jail and a $3,000 fine for hunting without landowner consent. The defendant has filed an appeal in this case where DNA evidence analysis applied new technology to help address an age-old concern in the woods of East Texas.

Angelina County Game Wardens James Barge and Heath Bragg gathered DNA evidence from the deer killed in the case. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department forensics analyst Beverly Villarreal tested the DNA from a rifle seized during execution of a search warrant which proved that the rifle had been at the scene of the offense.

Other DNA evidence from beer cans located at the scene and DNA from the defendant was gathered with the help of Lufkin Police Department’s crime scene technician Debra Walsh and sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab in Houston. Angelina County Assistant District Attorney Dale Summa tried the case, working with the game wardens all along the way. All of this evidence ultimately proved that Peters, who owned the gun in question, had been at the crime scene.

"Game Wardens Barge and Bragg went far beyond what a lot of officers would typically do in gathering evidence for this case, and they should be commended for their dedication," said Clyde Herrington, Angelina County district attorney. "The use of DNA evidence is something we wish was used more often in our general case load. It was critical in this case."

Nearly a year after the offense, the convicted man’s girlfriend’s father contacted Game Warden Barge and stated that he had told a false story earlier in the investigation about a time when Peters had arrived at his house, a statement which had given Peters an alibi.

The girlfriend’s father went on to state that he had spoken to Peters while he had been illegally hunting and that Peters had stated he was hunting on the complainant’s land. The Angelina County district attorney’s office helped secure a court order to obtain cell phone records to support the father’s statement.

Prosecution witnesses included both game wardens, Walsh, Villarreal, a DPS DNA analyst, the complainant and his wife, and Peters’ girlfriend’s father. The defendant and his girlfriend took the stand also. The jury acquitted the defendant of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which allegedly occurred when the complainant caught the defendant with the deer at the scene of the offense.

"One thing about this case that caused some concern among the game wardens and in my office as well is that some of these wildlife crime offenders can be belligerent and dangerous," Herrington said. "In my view, one of the reasons we have these laws about hunting and fishing is to protect people as well as wildlife."

Barge said the case marked the first time in his 11-year career as a Texas game warden where human DNA evidence led to a criminal conviction.


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