LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - An Angelina County jury found a Lufkin man who had been accused of killing a deer without proper permission not guilty Monday afternoon after two days of testimony in the case.
Jimmy D. Lee, 48, was charged with taking wildlife without consent of landowner.
According to an indictment, Jimmy Lee shot the deer on the property of Brian Swetnam on Oct. 18, 2014.
One neighbor of Swetnam said she was watching the property while he was out of town and noticed a truck that was not supposed to be there. The neighbor said she saw Lee pick up a wheelbarrow that had a small doe in it, put it in the truck, and drive off.
"I would have no problem, if I knew he was allowed to be there," she said.
The first witness for the defense would be Robert Mettlen.
Robert Mettlen told defense attorney Ryan Deaton that it is possible to take a deer out of the woods to the property where Lee's truck was.
Mettlen told the prosecuting attorney that he and Swetnam shared a right-of-way. Robert Mettlen told Deaton between 15 to 20 years ago, he gave permission to his uncles to be on his property.
"I gave my uncles permission," Mettlen said. "Mr. Lee is associated with my uncles so he was with them. If these guys want to park on my property and walk into the national forest, then I have no problem.
The trial started Friday with opening arguments by Attorney Art Bauereiss. Bauereiss said a nearby property owner saw Jimmy Lee carrying a wagon with a deer inside from Swetnam's property.
The woman said she tried to approach him, but Jimmy Lee kept moving, Bauereiss said.
Bauereiss also said Jimmy Lee told a game warden that he had parked his truck on the property.
"Let's be clear and upfront," said defense attorney Ryan Deaton. "There was never a deer found in this case."
Deaton said the case is one person's word against the other and that Jimmy Lee's family has had permission for years to park at the property and go through a trail leading to the national forest to hunt.
The first witness to take the stand was an Angelina County Sheriff's deputy named Robert Denby. He responded to the phone call made by the neighbor.
Denby said he went to the property and blew his horns and sirens and asked everyone to come out of the woods.
Deaton asked the deputy if he were hunting and not doing anything wrong, if he would go through the trouble of getting out of a harness. Denby admitted he wouldn't like to move right before the perfect time for hunting.
Swetnam himself took the stand next. He said his neighbors all look out for each other.
"As far as I'd known, no one had been on my property who didn't have permission," Swetnam said.
Once his neighbor said she'd seen a man leaving with a deer, Swetnam called a Texas Parks & Wildlife Department game warden.
Swetnam said he also walked through and looked at the property.
"I didn't see any blood or anything out of the ordinary," Swetnam said.
Texas Parks & Wildlife Game Warden James Barge took the stand later Friday. He said the defendant freely spoke with him when he approached him for questioning. He said he saw the wagon on the back of Lee's truck that allegedly carried the deer out of Swetnam's property.
"It looked clean," Barge said. "There wasn't a spot on it, as if it had been recently washed."
The game warden asked Jimmy Lee how he ended up on someone else's property during a recording played as evidence.
"I honestly don't know what you're talking about," Jimmy Lee responded.
Warden Barge said he noticed several things on Swetnam's property that suggested someone had been on it including a tree with a patch of bark missing, a twisted tree, and a pile of something unidentified that appeared to possibly be blood or feces.
Jimmy Lee continued to deny being on the private property.
"I was never on the property," Jimmy Lee said in the recording. "I can show you where I enter and what trail I use if you want."
As the recording continued, the warden asked about the relationship between him and Swetnam's neighbor. Lee said they were married into one another's families for five or six years.
When the warden asked if there was any bad blood between them to cause her to make allegations. Jimmy Lee said, "She's stupid. She's crazy as hell."
In the recording, he asked why someone would lie about him being there if he weren't.
Mettlen's cousin Shannon took the state took the stand next.
"His first deer was in November," Christina Lee said. "We rely on deer to eat."
Christina Lee said the meat they had in October 2014 was from the previous season. Christina said he wore plastic glasses which is different from earlier testimony by others that stated there was a man with wire-rimmed glasses. Christina also said she did not notice anything with the truck that would have looked different.
Christina Lee said Lee got a wheelbarrow after they helped her sister move, and she didn't want it anymore.
"He saw it and say, 'Hey, it makes my job easier,'" Christina Lee said. "It's not light. It weighs about 60 pounds."
Christina Lee said they process the meat themselves and clean the deer at home. She said it would be obvious to anyone who passed the home.
Christina Lee said there was no place between where he left his truck and home that he could have washed out the bed of the pickup. Christina told Beaureiss that she checked the truck when he came home in October to see if Lee brought home any dead deer.
Lester Glaze then answered questions from Deaton and said he and Lee were hunting buddies until his schedule with the pipeline took him away from the area.
Glaze said Lee told him at one point in 2014 that hunting season was not going very good.
"I think he is a good hunter," Glaze said. "I think he is a safe hunter."
After Monday's lunch break, Jimmy Lee would took the stand. During his testimony, Jimmy Lee said he thought he had the right to park on Mettlen's land.
"I've been doing it for 20 years," Jimmy Lee said.
Jimmy Lee told Deaton the truck was pulled off the road so he did not block the right-of-way. He also said he used the wheelbarrow because it makes it easier to pull the deer out of the forest, adding he would go about a mile to hunt.
"It takes me about 35 minutes to walk back there," Jimmy Lee said. "That is at a brisk pace."
Jimmy Lee said he liked to hunt with a bow and that it is bloodier compared to using a rifle.
After showing a video of the path he used to get to the forest, Jimmy Lee told Deaton he never went towards the direction of Swetman's property. Jimmy Lee said he never remembered taking the wheelbarrow with him that day.
"I was angry that day because that was the second time to come back that season without a deer," Lee said.
Lee said there was no way he could have picked up the barrel that was holding his climbing deer stand and a doe.
Jimmy Lee got choked up when he told Deaton he did not kill a deer on Swetman's property.
Jimmy Lee told Beaureiss that he would never kill a deer illegally.
In his closing arguments, Bauereiss told the jury he appreciated their service and that this comes done to the credibility of the neighbor that claimed to see Lee at the scene.
Deaton argued that Swetman's testimony is far more accurate than the neighbor's.
"[The neighbor] is not credible," Deaton said.
Deaton said Lee never tried to cover up anything from the case.
"He could have lied and covered up what he was doing, but he never did," Deaton said.
Deaton said the evidence the state had presented of broken tree limbs is a very common occurrence in the forest.
"If I had to create a crime scene in the forest with that stuff, then it would be easy," Deaton said.
Deaton asked the jury to really think the case through and make the right decision.
Bauereiss then came back and told the jury that Deaton shared his personal opinion and that is not allowed to happen in court.
"I ask that you send a clear message about illegal hunting," Bauereiss said.