President Pardons Man Convicted Of Killing Bald Eagles

Leslie Owen Collier was surrounded by cattle at a livestock auction when his cell phone rang. It was the White House.

Twelve years after pleading guilty to federal charges in the deaths of three bald eagles, Collier learned his name was cleared: He was pardoned by President George W. Bush.

"I guess I was humbled is the best way to say it — I never thought it would happen," Collier, 50, said in a phone interview this week. "It was emotional. I almost came to tears, really."Collier was among 14 people pardoned by Bush last week. The president has granted just 171 pardons overall — less than half as many as the other most recent two-term presidents, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

The 1995 incident that changed the life of the farmer from the Charleston area of southeastern Missouri began when he noticed an increasing number of wild turkeys, which were believed to have died away.

"I got it in my head that if I eliminated some of the coyotes it would give the turkeys a jump-start," on their comeback, Collier said.

So he put out hamburger meat laced with the pesticide Furadan in an effort to kill the coyotes. It worked; seven coyotes died.

The problem occurred when the eagles fed on the coyotes' carcasses. They died, too. So did a red-tailed hawk and a great horned owl, among other animals.

The birds are federally protected and killing them is illegal. Collier said the crime became a felony when the second eagle died. He pleaded guilty in late 1995 and received two years of probation.

While he didn't go to jail, the conviction was hard on Collier. He was ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. As a convicted felon, the longtime hunter had to give up his guns.

Beyond that, there were the occasional news articles and Web postings referring to Collier as the guy who killed bald eagles, America's national bird. Sometimes in town, he'd get looks that were difficult to ignore.

"For a while, you think people kind of look at you different," Collier said.

But many in and around Charleston, a town of about 5,000 residents, felt Collier was penalized too harshly because he clearly didn't intend to hurt the eagles. Among those in his corner was Lanie Black, then the state representative for the region, as well as a close family friend.

The men attend the same church, where Black teaches one of Collier's three children in Sunday School. When Collier lost part of a leg in a farming accident several years ago, Black was among those keeping vigil at the hospital.

To him, the prosecution of Collier never made sense.

"Everybody down here feels he was taken advantage of by a bunch of slick-tongued lawyers and prosecutors," Black said.

So Black and other supporters began writing letters seeking a pardon. Several months ago, U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway contacted Black and requested the full story. Hanaway had been asked by a pardon attorney for the Department of Justice for input about the possibility of a pardon.

Hanaway said she spoke with federal prosecutors familiar with the case, with the judge, even with people in the Charleston area who know Collier.

"By all accounts ... he is a pillar of the community down there," she said.

Collier said he didn't hear anything else until Monday. He feels vindicated and relieved his name is cleared.

"What happened really was regretful," Collier said. "I'd always be really excited to see a bald eagle. It sure never entered into my head I might kill some."

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  • by Tim Location: Vanceboro on Dec 2, 2008 at 08:27 AM
    Yes I read it, and although I may not agree with the...."method", the man was attrempting to protect another part of nature: the turkeys. Coyotes are, for lack of a better term, predators; or for simplification a really big rat. Thinnning out the coyote population (just as you would other pests), unless there was some sort of moratoreum, was beneficial to the turkey population. Some of you animal rights folks really go off the deep end. Now had he deliberately attempted to kill the eagles, an endangered species, he should have gotten the time. As I see it he simply made a mistake in his method of protecting another species of dwindling population. Before you accuse me of being stupid make sure you are aware of the subject at hand.
  • by $$$ Location: NC on Dec 2, 2008 at 01:33 AM
    Did any of you read the article? The man poisened the coyotes. If he was guitly of anything it was his threat against the coyotes. He didn't poach the birds. Give me a break. You think he should be prosocuted for this? How amusing with all the people who commit REAL crimes against nature and society.
  • by shaking head on Dec 1, 2008 at 02:22 PM
    Eagles are carions....carions eat dead things....anyone that poisons animals deliberately and doesn't make sure other animals eat them is an doesn't take a rocket scientis to figure out that animals eating others killed by poison will also be given
  • by Tim Location: Vanceboro, NC on Dec 1, 2008 at 08:43 AM
    Yes its a shame that the eagles died but the guy wasn't trying to kill the birds. He was trying to rid himself of predators. Predators I may add that preyed on the birds as well. And obvious, its is obvious that you have only seen adult eagles in "picture books". That one in the photo is a juvenile. They all look like that, along with really rough looking tails and wings until they get some age on them. They are not the majestic animals you see on tv until they are a couple of years old. I live near aquaculture farms and eagles are far from a rare sight. I am very fortunate to see these birds in all stages of life on a weekly basis they are really quite amazing. PETA don't like bald eagles? Maybe not, if they have nothing to eat and you have kittens or puppies, you better not let them get out in the open because you won't have them for long. They are not called birds of prey for nothing. I have seen one adult male with talons as big as my fingers.
  • by WHOS FAULT??? Location: GREENVILLE on Dec 1, 2008 at 07:53 AM
    Wheres PETA??? Oh i forgot they dont care about bald eagles.
  • by betty Location: cortland on Dec 1, 2008 at 06:23 AM
    this guys sounds like he really didn't intend to kill anything but the coyotes. I'm glad President Bush pardoned him.
  • by so much for laws protecting animals Location: not PETA on Dec 1, 2008 at 06:15 AM
    I don't agree with this decision at all. It is already hard enough to enforce animal cruelty laws, now the "president" pardons one who was actually found guilty. Georgie boy, you just set this country and it's laws back 100 years. All the animals thank you for not protecting and caring about them. God help any animal in your care.
  • by obvious on Nov 30, 2008 at 09:47 PM
    that does not look like any bald eagle i've ever seen
  • by Chas Location: Greenville on Nov 30, 2008 at 05:23 PM
    Great...There is still good people out here that do get what they deserve. This man sounds like a good man. Sorry that he had to go through so much for something that he did't even mean to do! Thanks Bush!
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Nov 30, 2008 at 05:16 PM
    This symbolizes an incident in which trying to do something good results in more harm than good.

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