Court reverses man's conviction in deer poaching case

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BENNINGTON — The Vermont Supreme Court has reversed a Bennington man's conviction for giving false information to police in connection with a deer poaching case.

The man had argued that evidence presented to a jury wasn't enough to support that he knowingly made false statements to police to deflect an investigation away from himself.

The court, in a majority opinion issued on May 12, ruled that the state's evidence did not support a jury finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court "must find that all of the statements that a juror could have found to be false were made with the purpose of deflecting the investigation," the decision stated. The court "cannot conclude that all of the statements met that element of the offense. Accordingly, we cannot sustain the judgment."

Jeffrey Reed was accused of shooting a spike horn deer in Dorset in November 2013. A jury later found him guilty on one count of giving false information to a law enforcement officer "with the purpose of deflecting an investigation." Reed was fined $300. The jury found him not guilty on single counts of taking big game with a salt lick and possessing big game taken by an illegal device.

Reed appealed his conviction, arguing the evidence the state presented was insufficient to support a guilty finding beyond a reasonable doubt.

The decision stated that a state game warden testified that he observed "a clear mark of where someone had cut, or hacked at.... one of the antlers" and that the warden testified Reed "kept changing what happened."

Neither the charging affidavit nor warden's testimony showed exactly what specific information was false, the decision stated. The prosecutor, in a closing argument, said Reed gave three different explanations about the cut marks: That he did not know what happened, that the witness may have been responsible; and that the nub fell off when he laid his knife against it.

"The ensuing jury instructions gave no explanation about how the jury was to determine whether defendant gave false information," the decision stated.

Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.

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