A modern-day range war ended Monday when a Texas businessman who owns a ranch in central Colorado pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and animal cruelty in the slaughter of 32 bison that belonged to a neighbor.
Jeff Hawn, CEO of Seattle-based software company Attachmate, agreed to pay $83,000 to the bison's owner, $70,000 to charities and $4,000 to the Park County Sheriff's Department.
Hawn could also face up to 10 days in jail when he's sentenced on Jan. 28. He faces two years of probation, and the case could be wiped from his record if he stays out of trouble during that time.
Hawn's lawyer, Pamela Mackey, didn't immediately return a telephone message.
Hawn lives in Austin, Texas, but has a luxury home on his Colorado property. Prosecutors say he gave 14 hunters permission to shoot and kill the bison on his land because they kept wandering there from owner Monte Downare's ranch.
But Colorado is an open-range state, where livestock like Downare's bison can roam wherever they please. If other landowners don't want animals on their property, the law says they have to fence them out; ranchers don't have to fence them in.
Investigators discovered 10 bison had been shot and killed March 19 on Hawn's property and nearby land. They said others had been shot earlier.
Hawn was originally charged with 32 counts of aggravated animal cruelty but pleaded guilty to the lesser charges in a deal with prosecutors.
Downare said the deal was "all right."
"It's about getting over with it," he said.
Prosecutor Katherine O'Brien said Downare and his family were reluctant to accept a plea deal because killing livestock is a serious crime in a ranching community, but the agreement was the best solution for all concerned.
Park County District Judge Stephen Groome said he agreed only reluctantly to accept the deal.
"It is pretty common knowledge this is one of the most controversial cases this county has faced for some time," Groome said. "Plea bargains are rarely occasions where everyone is happy. (But) it is probably as close to justice as we can achieve."