Two Anchorage men have been accused by the state of poaching a pair of Dall sheep rams on the slopes along the Seward Highway near Indian.
The location above Turnagain Arm, in an area of Chugach State Park whose easy viewing of the mountain-dwelling animals draws thousands of tourists and residents each year, was also the scene of two other recent sheep killings, including that of Old One Eye, a full-curl ram popular with photographers and wildlife watchers, gunned down by a poacher in November 2003.
The men are Robert J. McConnell, 53, and Douglas E. Perfetto, 43, named in papers filed Thursday in Anchorage District Court. Authorities caught up with the two after another man chased them from the scene and got a partial license plate number.
Each is charged with multiple felonies and misdemeanors related to the taking of two full-curl rams on Feb. 12 a few hundred yards up the slope from Mile 104.5 of the Seward Highway, according to the court document and interviews with authorities.
The charges include tampering with evidence, taking sheep out of season, failing to salvage game, and other crimes. Perfetto is charged with owning an illegal weapon, a sawed-off rifle. The felony charges each carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail and $50,000 fine.
The court papers also link McConnell to one of the other Dall sheep, an animal that died last November from unknown causes at about Mile 106 of the highway. McConnell is not accused of killing that animal, but of possessing and transporting illegally taken game, assistant attorney general Roger Rom said Friday.
The carcass of the sheep was not found, only a large patch of blood and sheep hairs to the side of the Seward Highway pavement. McConnell told investigators he found the sheep already dead as a road kill and took it home, Rom said.
Both McConnell and Perfetto are free, and summonses have been issued ordering them to appear in court on April 20. It could not be learned whether they have been served yet with the summonses. Neither man could be reached.
The case attracted several investigators of the Alaska State Troopers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as rangers of Chugach State Park.
"This is an important case," Rom said, "because the area where these sheep were taken presents one of the best opportunities in Alaska for people to view Dall sheep in a natural habitat, and because it's so close to Anchorage."
"Officers who responded to this case," he added, "were really responding to the fact that the resources are worthy of vigilant protection."
The investigators were eventually led to McConnell and Perfetto through the efforts of another Anchorage man, Charles Covington, the authorities said.
Covington happened to be in the area on Feb. 12 through an interest in buying property nearby, the court papers say. "He walked up a well-worn trail about 200 feet when he noticed an eagle on the forest floor caught in a trap," they say.
The eagle was alive, apparently caught by a claw, said Rom.
Covington returned to his vehicle to get his camera and phone troopers. He noticed a white Ford pickup pass by several times on the road, then walked up the hill and photographed the eagle.
Soon he saw a man, identified by the document as McConnell, walking down the hill in blood-soaked clothing while carrying a sheep's head and cape in each hand, according to court papers. The man denied owning the trap and told Covington he found the sheep dead in an avalanche zone higher up the hill, the papers say.
"Covington followed the man toward the road," the papers say, "and when he reached the bottom of the trail ... the man acted nervous and put the sheep down in some bushes near the pullout."
A little later, Covington saw the man walk back up the hill with the heads. Covington then approached a motorist who had stopped at a nearby pullout, and asked him to watch the eagle.
When Covington returned to his own vehicle, he saw the man in the bloody clothes running without the heads toward the white Ford pickup, now stopped on the side of the road. As soon as the man jumped inside, the truck sped off, according to the court document.
Covington followed the truck "at a high rate of speed" northwest to Potter Marsh, then abandoned the chase and called troopers again, the document says. He gave them a description of the man in the bloody clothes and the numbers on the truck's plate.
That was enough for investigators to track the vehicle to Perfetto, the court papers say. Two special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visited Perfetto the same day. Authorities would eventually link McConnell to Perfetto and both to the sheep as well as to several traps set on the mountain.
As far as anyone knew, the eagle had been released, said Lt. Charles Yoder, the Mat-Su region commander of the troopers' Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement.
Next day, investigators found the sheep heads and sheep carcasses, with none of the meat removed.
They found two leg-hold traps and a snare off the trail where the eagle had been caught. The traps in themselves were not illegal, said Rom. But the bait used in one of them -- the front quarters of a sheep or goat -- was illegal, and the men were charged accordingly, he said.
In subsequent days, investigators collected bullet fragments, additional animal parts and other material. Armed with searched warrants, they confiscated weapons, animal traps and Perfetto's truck.
"There was a lot of evidence seized in this," Yoder said.
They also matched tire tracks photographed in late November near Mile 106 of the Seward Highway, where sheep hairs and blood splatter were found, to the tires of Perfetto's pickup, the court papers say.
Federal agents plan to analyze blood samples found in the pickup with samples found at both the November and February kill sites, the papers say.
Rom declined to say if additional charges are pending or if investigators are trying to link the recent poaching with that of Old One Eye.
Daily News reporter Peter Porco can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4582.