Call for justice in cruelty case

This is a case worthy of all our attention.

A 2015 Punahou School graduate recently pleaded no contest in state court to animal cruelty and other charges in connection with vandalism and the killing of 15 Laysan albatrosses at Kaena Point.

Christian Gutierrez, 19, pleaded no contest to one of 15 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty against him, misdemeanor theft, petty misdemeanor criminal property damage and two counts of prohibited activities regarding wildlife and in a natural area reserve. The birds were killed in December 2015 when Gutierrez, a New York University student, was home for the holidays.

As part of his plea deal with the state, Gutierrez has agreed to cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of others. His lawyer Myles Breiner previously said that his client was camping at Kaena Point with schoolmates from Punahou.

Breiner asked the court to defer the no-contest pleas to give Gutierrez the opportunity to avoid conviction. Circuit Judge Jeannette Castagnetti will decide whether to defer the pleas or sentence Gutierrez in June.

We’ll be waiting to see how this case turns out.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, meanwhile, expressed concern with the plea deal.

“This crime is absolutely heinous,” said Suzanne Case, chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources. “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. Our wildlife managers and enforcement officers work very hard to protect the Kaena albatross colony. We take great responsibility for the welfare of these Laysan albatross and to the public who cares about them deeply. DLNR is watching this case very closely to see if justice will be met.”

Seventeen Laysan albatross nests were destroyed (six eggs died from loss of an incubating parent that was killed and 11 were crushed) and at least 15 adult birds were killed, some of which were dismembered by the perpetrators. With 32 live albatrosses lost, and a proven reproductive potential of each adult bird that can live for 60-plus years and rear a chick every other year, the combined effect on the population has been calculated in the hundreds for these large, protected birds.

This is the first major case to come before Hawaii’s new environmental court.

“The tone this case sets can have far-reaching impacts on the security of our wildlife and natural resources,” Case said. “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.”

Like DLNR, we will watch the case closely. It is, as Case says, an instance of appalling cruelty, and we hope that justice is served.

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