A man accused of killing federally protected Laysan albatross birds on Oahu has been sentenced.
On March 16, Christian Gutierrez pleaded no contest 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.
On Thursday, July 6, a judge sentenced the Punahou School graduate to 45 days in jail and a year of probation. He will also have to serve 200 hours of community service and pay restitution.
“The nature and circumstances of the crimes that you pled to shock the conscience. The killing of these defenseless and protected birds was inexcusable,” said Circuit Court Judge Jeannette Castagnetti.
Gutierrez spoke before a packed courtroom, and apologized for his actions:
“I’ve been listening to what people have been saying about this case, and about my character, and about what’s happened since the beginning, and also here today in this courtroom. The people have every right to be angry and disgusted with my behavior, as I am disgusted with my own behavior. I wish I had the courage not to go along, but I did and I will forever have that memory.
“Ms. Young, Ms. Case, Ms. Zoll, and Mr. Aila, I am sorry for the impact that my actions have caused you and the community. Ms. (Lindsay Young, executive director, Pacific Rim Conservation Group), seven months ago in the hallway of this courtroom, you said to me you should be ashamed of yourself, and you’re right. I am ashamed of myself.”
Gutierrez was taken into custody immediately following his sentencing. While being handcuffed, he uttered yet another apology: “I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad. I’m sorry.”
His attorney, Myles Breiner, says he’s disappointed with the outcome.
He had been fighting to get the charges deferred, meaning if Gutierrez stayed out of trouble, the charges would eventually be wiped from his record. But the judge denied that request.
“We thought that he deserved a deferral,” Breiner said. “We’re disappointed that the court gave him any jail at all. Hopefully when he gets out, he’ll be able to resume his studies in New York.”
Gutierrez will have to report to a probation officer once he’s released from jail.
In December 2015, officials found at least 15 nests in Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve were destroyed with either smashed, dead, or missing eggs. At least 32 adults and eggs were killed, officials said, 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, 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, before reaching a deal with prosecutors.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources says the sentencing sends a strong message that crimes like this aren’t taken lightly.
“Everyone wants to be clear that we cannot tolerate this type of behavior. It’s brutal. It’s heinous, and we need to protect our wildlife,” said DLNR chair Suzanne Case. “It’s hard to put a dollar figure on that. We obviously spent hundreds of thousands of dollars creating this protected area and protected from invasive predators, and unfortunately, not protected from man.”
DLNR estimates the long-term effects of the killings resulted in about 320 albatross lost.
Breiner previously told us Gutierrez was not the ring leader, and other individuals — who were juveniles — were involved.
We asked Breiner what’s next for the other boys involved in the case, but he says he can’t comment because those cases are in juvenile court.