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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — A 42-year-old Boyceville man charged in Dunn County Circuit Court with six misdemeanor counts related to poaching Whitetail deer has rejected a plea deal after the district attorney unexpectedly added in jail time.
Ray C. Stuart appeared before Judge James Peterson for a plea hearing July 2.
Stuart did not have an attorney and was representing himself. He is charged with one count of obstructing an officer, three counts of illegally hunting deer, one count of illegally shining deer and one Natural Resources count of hunting deer during closed season.
Stuart told the court that while he was willing to accept the previous plea agreement, the offer had changed the morning of July 2 and had added 90 days of jail time.
At a previous hearing a month ago, the court was running very late, Stuart said, which prompted him to offer to reschedule.
Stuart said he regretted not keeping the original court date because jail time was not included in the plea deal then, and he did not understand how the offer could be changed that morning.
Judge Peterson said he could not explain how or why the offer had changed because the court is not involved in plea negotiations.
The court also is not bound by a plea agreement, although if the agreement is joint between the defendant and the district attorney’s office, the court will generally follow the plea agreement, the judge said.
At the June 2 court hearing, Stuart reiterated, he did not know the agreement would change when he offered to reschedule for the court’s benefit.
Dunn County Assistant District Attorney Andrew Maki was in the courtroom for the Stuart hearing, and Judge Peterson asked if Maki knew anything about how the plea agreement had changed.
The district attorney, Andrea Nodolf, had reviewed the Stuart file and had changed the plea agreement. Assistant District Attorney Megan Kelly was assigned to the Stuart case, Maki said.
“I see,” Judge Peterson replied, adding that he did not know if anyone had ever done jail time on a state Department of Natural Resources violation.
No one can force Stuart to accept the plea deal, and Stuart can choose to get an attorney and have a trial, Judge Peterson said.
“The deal was good enough on the 30th but not on the 2nd,” Stuart said.
Stuart said Nodolf had told him she was adding jail time because his hunting privileges were already revoked and he was a repeat offender.
The previous plea agreement had included two years of probation and revocation of hunting privileges for 12 years, which with previous revocations, means Stuart’s hunting privileges would be revoked until 2036.
Stuart said while he was willing to accept the previous agreement, “I will not agree to jail time.”
Stuart told the court he has young children at home, that it is a 108 mile round trip to court and that he works six days a week for 12 to 14 hours.
Judge Peterson said that while he cannot change the offer or make an offer, Stuart has every right to ask for a trial.
“I’m just very upset,” Stuart said, noting that he had previously been dealing with Megan Kelly on the case.
Stuart also told the court he was afraid he would not be able to get a fair trial because the case has been covered on the front page by a variety of newspapers, including the Glenwood City newspaper.
While in the process of “getting rid of his dogs,” Stuart said, someone came to look at the dogs, saw Stuart’s name on the collar and had read about the case in the newspapers.
Stuart said he “wanted it over and done with,” but that “he would not serve 90 days in jail.”
Acknowledging that he should not be making excuses for himself, “it was a deer,” Stuart said, and not like he was selling or using drugs.
“I made a mistake,” he said.
Judge Peterson suggested setting another court date to give Stuart time to think about what he wanted to do and whether he wanted to hire an attorney and ask for a trial.
With young dependents at home, Stuart could possibly qualify for a public defender, the judge noted.
Judge Peterson said he generally does not read the local newspapers, but that if the case was covered in local newspapers, during jury selection, if a potential juror is aware of the case, and if the juror says he or she cannot be fair and impartial, then the potential juror is excused.
Dunn County covers 864 square miles, so many people in the county may not be aware of the case, Judge Peterson said.
Stuart is scheduled to make another appearance in Dunn County Circuit Court on September 4.
Judge Peterson has agreed that Stuart can appear by telephone at the next court hearing so he does not have to make the long drive to the Dunn County Judicial Center.
According to the criminal complaint, Warden Jaime McDermid of the state Department of Natural Resources was contacted about illegal deer hunting activity on November 26, 2019, at a residence on state Highway 64.
The person who contacted the DNR said Stuart had shot an eight-point buck with his crossbow on November 16 while “road hunting,” and had shot a four-point buck with his crossbow after dark on November 20.
The person who contacted the DNR also said Stuart had shot a 17-point buck with the aid of a spotlight on November 22 in the Town of Sheridan, the complaint states.
Stuart’s son allegedly registered the 17-point buck under his own gun deer license, and when Warden McDermid reviewed DNR records, he discovered the son had purchased a gun deer license online at approximately 11 p.m. November 22.
When Warden McDermid and another warden entered a detached garage, they observed a four-point buck and a 17-point buck head and cape. The four-pointer appeared rotten and smelled foul. The wardens also discovered an eight-point buck hanging from the garage ceiling, with very sunken eyes, indicating it had been there for a while. The eight-pointer also appeared rotten and smelled foul. A chest freezer contained multiple large deer racks, according to the complaint.
The criminal complaint lists Stuart’s prior DNR related violations, which include several instances of failing to attach a deer tag, possessing birds in excess of the bag limit and illegally shining deer, elk or bear.
Stuart’s hunting privileges were revoked for three years after being convicted in Dunn County in January of 2018 and were again revoked for another three years in a separate case, consecutive to the first case, so that currently, Stuart’s hunting privileges are revoked until 2024.