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Judge convicts 2 Makah in rogue whale hunt

/ Source: The Associated Press

Two Makah tribal members who led an unsanctioned gray whale hunt last September have been convicted of federal misdemeanor charges.

U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Kelley Arnold on Monday found Wayne Johnson and Andy Noel guilty after the pair waived their right to a jury trial and admitted their roles.

The two were convicted of conspiracy to violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act and unlawfully taking a marine mammal.

Defense attorneys say their clients agreed to waive the jury trial so they could get on with appealing some of the rulings made in the case, including one in which Arnold determined their actions were not protected under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment right to religious freedom.

He also had denied their motions to dismiss the charges based on the Makah tribe's treaty rights to hunt whales.

"There was no reason to go through a several-day jury trial when the jury wasn't going to be able to hear their defense," said Jack Fiander, Noel's attorney.

Tribe wants whale hunt waiver
He said the case could be a good vehicle for challenging previous federal appeals court rulings that said the Makah have treaty rights to hunt whales, but must obtain a waiver under the Marine Mammal Protection Act before exercising that right.

The tribe has been working for several years to obtain such a waiver.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Oesterle said the government had not taken a position on whether the men should serve jail time, but would follow the sentencing recommendation of experts who will review the men's circumstances.

Sentencing is set for June 20. They face a maximum of one year in jail on each count.

"My mom's going to kill me," Johnson joked as the hearing ended.

Three of their co-defendants have already pleaded guilty. Theron Parker, William Secor Sr. and Frankie Gonzales each admitted in federal court that they violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act.