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TPWD News Release — Nov. 3, 2008

Wharton Co. Jury Returns Guilty Verdict in Trial of Man Accused of Killing Game Warden

AUSTIN, Texas — A Wharton County jury took just two-and-a-half hours this afternoon to return a verdict of "guilty, capital murder" in the trial of 27-year-old James Garrett Freeman, of Lissie, who shot and killed Texas Game Warden Justin Hurst March 17, 2007.

The sentencing phase of the trial will begin Tuesday, and Wharton County District Attorney Josh McCown has indicated he will seek the death penalty.

"We are all very relieved by the verdict that was rendered by the jury today," said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith. "It is a fitting decision given the horrific nature of the crime committed against our colleague, Texas Game Warden Justin Hurst. Our prayers and thoughts remain with Justin’s wife and son, and with his parents and family, as they continue to cope with his loss."

Freeman was suspected of poaching, and opened fire on Hurst and other law enforcement officers following a high-speed police chase on the eve of the game warden’s 34th birthday. Hurst died early the next morning at Hermann Memorial Hospital in Houston, leaving behind a wife and infant son.

Seventeen game wardens have died in the line of duty since 1919.

"We feel for the families that were affected by the senseless killing of Game Warden Justin Hurst and are grateful that in the end, justice was served," said Col. Pete Flores, TPWD’s Law Enforcement Division director.

Hurst began his TPWD career as a wildlife biologist and spent six years at the 15,612-acre wildlife management area formerly known as Peach Point WMA. The wildlife management area, where Hurst conducted research on mottled ducks and other wildlife, was renamed in his honor Oct. 12, 2007.

Hurst graduated from the 48th Texas Game Warden Academy in August 2002, and after a year in Brazos County transferred to Wharton County.