Jail right sentence in bird killings

It’s not often we’ll say we’re glad to see someone will be spending time in jail and even wish it were more, but this is one such time.

Christian Gutierrez deserved more than the 45 days he was sentenced to by Environmental Court Judge Jeannette Castagnetti on Thursday. He was fortunate to get off relatively lightly for what he did. And what he and his friends did in 2015 was sickening. Difficult to imagine what was going on in this guy’s mind. How someone could do what he did is, for most of us, beyond comprehension.

In case you missed it, here is what Gutierrez did with a group of buddies from the Honolulu prep school Punahou: They went camping on the westernmost tip of the island of Oahu. Prosecutors say they killed at least 15 Laysan albatrosses, which are federally protected, near the Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve by bludgeoning them with a bat and machete and shooting them with a pellet gun. The teens cut off the birds’ legs, tied the birds together and threw them over a cliff into in the ocean, prosecutors said. Nests and eggs were smashed.

They used a bat, a machete, a pellet gun to kill defenseless, trusting birds. There is no other way to describe those actions as anything other than twisted. How does one go about slaughtering birds with buddies and then go back to life as usual the next day?

The best thing that came out of this is that Gutierrez and his pals were caught, though he initially denied it. In March, Gutierrez pleaded no contest to animal cruelty, theft and other charges. Two other cases are being handled confidentially in juvenile court.

Marigold Zoll, the Oahu branch manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, had this to say in court: “Unlike wildlife found in other places, albatross are so docile that I would trust my 8-year-old child to wander amongst them without threat of injury. The impact of this crime extends well beyond the 32 animals we know were killed. Based on conservative estimates of lifespan, reproduction rates and fledgling success we estimate we lost 320 animals from the intentional killing of 32 adults and eggs by Gutierrez and his friends.”

Zoll concluded her testimony saying, “The department considers the killing or taking of protected wildlife to be the most egregious trespass of our laws.”

State Board of Land and Natural Resources Chair Suzanne Case applauded Castagnetti for sending a strong message to the community.

“The fact that this man will serve jail time and community service recognizes the severity of these killings and the terrible impact it will have for years to come on the albatross breeding colony at Kaena Point. Jail time, combined with the fine, sends a very strong message to the community that there is no tolerance for abuse, destruction or killing of Hawaii’s unique and precious wildlife — whether it’s albatross, monk seals, turtles or anything else.”

DLNR officials were heartened by the tremendous amount of community outrage directed toward the perpetrators, which makes a difference.

“It showed that most people truly care about our natural resources and that when they are abused or mistreated in any way, they expect us, prosecutors and the courts to do the right thing,” Case said. “Today a very strong message was sent that these crimes will not be tolerated and will be punished to the fullest extent possible.”

In court on Thursday, Gutierrez had this to say: “I am ashamed of myself.” He should be. He said he is seeking mental health treatment and we agree he needs it and hope he gets it. We believe everyone deserves a second chance, and hope he learns from this and turns his life around. At the same time, it is essential that he be held responsible for his actions.

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