The first trial in the extensive illegal elk hunting case out of Central Whitman County has ended with an acquittal.
35-year-old Eric Thompson of Clarkston stood trial for misdemeanor 2nd degree unlawful hunting of big game in Whitman County District Court. The three-day trial ended on Wednesday when the jury found Thompson not guilty after deliberating for about an hour.
Thompson and 3 other men were charged for allegedly using vehicles to chase, corral and prevent the escape of a large herd of elk outside St. John. The allegations were first announced by a press release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The agency claimed that the men corralled the herd and shot multiple elk with muzzleloaders from the road and out of their vehicles in October of 2019. WDFW wanted 9 men charged in the case.
One of the defendants 72-year-old Randall Hooper of Colfax pleaded guilty to a lesser infraction in March. Cases are still pending against 68-year-old Duane Kjack and 28-year-old Jason Heitstuman both of St. John.
When WDFW announced the case, agents said they had received multiple hunting complaints about the men for several years. This investigation began when witnesses reported to authorities that they saw a group of men illegally hunting elk.