Lakewood man admits to killing renowned bull at YMCA of the Rockies

July 17, 1996 Vol 27, Number 9

By Jackie Hutchins

Randal Lee Francis of Lakewood, set to go to trail Monday on charges stemming from the poaching of a massive bull elk known as "Samson," pleaded guilty Friday to the primary charge against him.

Larry Abrahamson of the District Attorney's Office, said Francis admitted guilt to the charge of willful destruction of big game, a Class 5 felony.

Francis had been charged with two felony charges - willful destruction of wildlife and possession of a weapon by a prior offender, as well as two misdemeanor charges.

Samson, a 7-by-9-point bull, was killed by a crossbow on the grounds of the YMCA of the Rockies-Estes Park Center on Nov. 11.

YMCA spokesman Dave Thomas said the staff there is pleased that Francis admitted his guilt in the case, and hopes that he will receive the maximum sentence possible.

"We wanted to let the situation point out the wrongness of poaching". he explained.

"In order for that to happen, we think the court should impose a maximum sentence on him when the time for sentencing comes.

"That will send a message to other people, that poaching is not right and won't be tolerated anywhere in the state," Thomas said.

He noted Francis put hundreds of people in danger by his actions on Nov. 11.

That day the Estes Park Center had about 1,100 guests and staff members on the grounds, Thomas said.

He said the YMCA staff wants people to realize that they should not hunt illegally on private property, particularly when there are people around.

It is also wrong to hunt an animal as human-habituated as Samson was after wintering on the YMCA grounds, Thomas added.

"He felt safe there. That's part of the tragedy."

DOW satisfied with plea bargain

Abrahamson credited the Colorado Division of Wildlife with investigating and preparing the case "in a very thorough and professional manner, thus allowing for a successful prosecution."

Colorado Division of Wildlife area manager Rick Spowart led the local investigation of the case.

"They ran it by the DOW and they had our support," he said of the plea bargain agreement. I look at it as a victory," Spowart said

He said DOW officials were pleased that Francis admitted guilt to the wildlife destruction felony charge. even though the firearm charge against him was dropped.

Francis is facing a misdemeanor charge in Eagle county and is under investigation in Jefferson and Denver counties in other cases of illegally killing wildlife, Spowart noted.

"We know of several animals he had taken and several he had sold." he said.

DOW investigators suspect he was shooting trophy-quality animals to remove the heads and sell them, Spowart said.

Up to $100,000 fine, 3 years in jail

Spowart said he also is hopeful that Francis will face the maximum fine after sentencing in September.

He said the message needs to get out that poachers will face large fines and jail time.

Spowart added that he has been told area residents will get the chance to testify at the sentencing hearing about what the large elk meant to them.

"The judge will find out the public sentiment is very strong," he predicted.

Under the plea bargain agreement, Francis could be ordered to pay a fine of up to $100.000, and sentenced to jail, the Community Correction program or probation.

If a jail sentence is ordered, the parties have agreed he can serve it in the county jail, rather than being incarcerated in state prison by the Department of Corrections.

However, if Francis violates the law or the court-imposed conditions, a sentence of up to three years in state prison would be available to the sentencing judge.

Francis will be sentenced on Sept. 25 at 3 p.m. in the Larimer County District Court.

Some poaching continues

Spowart said the attention focused on the poaching since the Nov. 11 killing has resulted in greater awareness of illegal hunting.

There have been no cases of outsiders coming into the Estes Valley and illegally hunting trophy-class animals since then, Spowart said.

"I think definitely the publicity has helped.

"Poachers are afraid to do their poaching in the Estes Valley."

Nonetheless, Spowart has investigated the illegal killings of some deer and one elk since the Samson case.

There are suspects in those cases, and Spowart said he believes the elk was shot by an area resident disgruntled about damage done to his ornamental plantings.