Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Gillett walks for now

Jury trial ends without a verdict

Express Staff Writer

Ron Gillett describes his version of events related to a March 25 altercation he had with pro-wolf activist Lynne Stone.

Windshield wipers straining against the six inches of freshly fallen snow that had accumulated in the Stanley area overnight, a rifle-toting Ron Gillett got in his light-gray Chevrolet pickup truck and headed across town.

It was just after 9 a.m. on March 25 and the well-known anti-wolf activist from Stanley claims he only wanted to scare off the two wolves he'd spotted on the nearby saddle north from Stanley city limits.

The leader of the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, Gillett said he was unaware that someone else was already parked in the single-car pullout next to the Valley Creek Bridge as he negotiated his four-wheel-drive Chevy through the quiet winter streets. But within moments, the 67-year-old spotted his nemesis, pro-wolf activist Lynne Stone, also of Stanley, standing next to her Toyota Tacoma about to walk her dog.

In a tense courtroom at the Custer County Courthouse last Friday, a jury of six—four men and two women—had to weigh the claims and counterclaims leveled by Stone and Gillett before deciding exactly what happened in those next few minutes on that snowy winter morning. Because no one else witnessed the encounter, the case came down to whom the jurors believed more.

Stone, who has spent the past several years monitoring the Basin Butte wolf pack and other wolves in the Stanley area in an effort to keep them from harm, said that after Gillett drove up next to her the situation quickly went from bad to worse. Stone, executive director of the Stanley-based environmental organization Boulder-White Clouds Council, filed a series of reports with the Custer County Sheriff's Office last spring alleging Gillett was repeatedly following and harassing her.

Stone said the March 25 situation ended with him grabbing both her right hand and left shoulder and trying to wrestle her digital camera from her hands. Moments before, she had snapped several photographs of Gillett arriving in his pickup, which she said prompted his angry outburst.

Gillett claims the altercation became physical because he felt his safety was being threatened. He said he only acted to keep Stone from attacking him with her camera.

But after deliberating for about two hours, the six-member jury returned to the courtroom just after 7 p.m. to tell Custer County Magistrate Judge Charles L. Roos they couldn't agree whether Gillett was guilty of assault and battery on Stone.

In light of the hung jury, the prosecutor of the case has indicated he is unsure whether he will seek to bring the case back to court or let it lapse.

Friday's trial seemed to turn on the testimony of Garden Valley resident Robert McIntyre, who was called by the defense to testify about an alleged altercation he had with Stone in June. McIntyre testified that he came across Stone—whom he didn't know—out in the woods northwest of Stanley. He said she verbally assaulted him, accusing him of shooting a wolf the day before.

McIntyre said Stone was "very angry" and was threatening him, a charge she denies. What weight the testimony carried with the jurors is unclear, but Jerome lawyer John Lothspeich, Gillett's defense attorney for the case, seized on the concept.

The all-day trial, attended by supporters of Stone and Gillett, provided a glimpse into the level of dislike the two activists have for one another. Although passing within feet of one another at numerous times during the trial, Stone and Gillett never once acknowledged each other. Though instructed by Judge Roos to avoid discussing the ongoing gray wolf controversy in the northern Rockies—a debate this rural mountain town of less than 100 people hasn't been immune from—both sides invariably detoured away from the March 25 events that led to the trial.

Gillett was times animated, his voice sometimes raised. He repeatedly claimed he had no idea Stone was at the bridge. Gillett said he spotted the wolves from inside his home at the Triangle C Ranch that morning while glassing the snow-covered hillsides with binoculars.

"I saw two wolves," he testified. "I made up my mind that I would take my glasses, my rifle, and move them out of there.

"I'm tired of them killing animals."

That statement led to a quick admonishment from the judge to stick to the basics of the case and refrain from discussing the politics of the wolf issue.

Lothspeich said Stone was the aggressor. In questioning Gillett while he was on the stand, Lothspeich's pointed questions were obviously meant to discredit Stone and convince the jurors that his client was only acting in self-defense when he tried to wrest the camera from her hands.

Gillett said he was afraid that Stone was going to hit him in the face with her camera lens.

"She was doing the camera thing," he testified. "I didn't know if she was going to try and take a picture or hit me in the face. "I don't go around beating up on women."

Gillett also claimed that Stone had no right to be taking his picture.

"This lady is a wolf terrorist," he said. "She was in my face."

Her face betraying anxiety as she testified Friday, Stone painted a different picture of the altercation. Known for her strident resistance to what she's dubbed a war on wolves, Stone said she was getting ready to walk her dog when she spotted the gray pickup truck headed towards her.

"I had a sinking feeling because I knew who it was," she said.

Snapping several photographs of Gillett only served to escalate the situation, Stone said. She alleged that Gillett rounded his pickup—it was positioned in such a way that the driver's side door was next to Stone—and came after her.

Stone, who at the time was still recovering from abdominal surgery only a few weeks before, said she braced for what was coming. Grabbing her by the hand and shoulder, Gillett tried to steal her camera away, Stone testified.

Stone said Gillett was shaking her so hard that his large white cowboy hat fell to the fresh snow. She said this brought him back to his senses.

"He kind of had a dazed look on his face," she said. "I said, 'Ron, this time you've stepped over the line. You can't do this to people.'"

Whatever the reason for the altercation, Stone was left with several injuries that caused her to go to the Stanley medical clinic the next day, including a bleeding right hand that she was dabbing with a tissue as Custer County Sheriffs officers arrived on scene minutes after she called them.

First to show up was county sheriff's Deputy Mike Talbot. Testifying Friday, Talbot said he found Stone "shaken" and "upset" as he pulled up.

Asked by Lothspeich if the wound on her hand appeared fresh, Talbot answered yes.

"She was trying to stem the flow of the blood," he testified.

After interviewing Stone, Talbot and two other officers—Peter Isner and Gary Gadwa—headed to Gillett's home at the Triangle C Ranch.

Gadwa said Gillett was at first cordial, but his demeanor immediately changed when Stone's name came up. He said Gillett became "flustered and emotional" and "red in the face" when the talk turned to the altercation.

"I would call it anger, I guess," he testified.

Gadwa said that after Gillett called Stone a lying "wolf lover," he "went on to say it was his job to put people down like that."

Arrested and transported to the Custer County Jail in Challis, Gillett pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery before being released from jail. The maximum penalty for misdemeanor assault is a $1,000 fine, three months in jail or both. The maximum penalty for battery is a $1,000 fine, six months in jail or both.

A no-contact order prohibiting Gillett from coming into contact with Stone was set to expire on Aug. 22. As of press time Tuesday, information was not available as to whether the order had been extended.

Stone has indicated that she may move away from Stanley to Ketchum or somewhere else where wolves have broader public support. She confessed that she has tired of Gillett's constant presence and the battle over wolves in the Sawtooth Valley.

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