A man accused of killing three federally protected Laysan albatross birds on Oahu has changed his plea.
In December 2015, officials found at least 15 nests were destroyed with either smashed, dead, or missing eggs. At least 12 adult birds were missing, and there was evidence that several birds had their feet cut off.
Seabird monitoring cameras and sound equipment were also missing with a replacement value of $3,100, officials said.
A year later, Christian Gutierrez turned himself in after a warrant was issued for his arrest. He initially pleaded not guilty to multiple counts, including theft, entering a prohibited area, prohibited activities in a nature reserve, fourth-degree criminal property damage, and 14 counts of animal cruelty.
On Thursday, he entered a no-contest plea to amended charges of third-degree theft, prohibited activities, prohibited activities in a natural area reserve, fourth-degree criminal property damage, and second-degree cruelty to animals.
According to his attorney, Gutierrez was not the ring leader, and other individuals — who are juveniles — were involved. He noted that Gutierrez is cooperating with the prosecutor’s office.
The plea deal doesn’t sit well with the state. The Department of Land and Natural Resources issued a statement Friday, expressing concern over the development.
“This crime is absolutely heinous,” said Suzanne Case, DLNR chair. “It combines appalling animal cruelty with long-lasting devastation of a breeding population of vulnerable and protected majestic seabirds. Unfortunately, DLNR was not consulted with respect to the plea bargain in this case. … DLNR is watching this case very closely to see if justice will be met.
“The tone this case sets can have far reaching impacts on the security of our wildlife and natural resources,” Case added. “It is critical that the outcome of this case sends a strong message to the public, that violations of laws protecting our vulnerable native wildlife and acts of illegal take and destruction will not be tolerated.”
Gutierrez is scheduled to be sentenced June 1.