Iditarod champion musher Jeff King was ordered to pay a $4,000 fine and another $750 in restitution to the National Park Service on Friday for illegally killing a moose just inside Denali National Park and Preserve more than a year ago.
King, 52, was found guilty of shooting a bull moose 600 feet inside the park boundary by a federal magistrate on Oct. 24 following a two-day trial. He faced a maximum of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
With tears running down his face as he addressed Federal Magistrate Judge John D. Roberts near the end of the 4 1/2-hour sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in Fairbanks, King described himself as "humbled and emotionally spent."
"I'm ready for it to be over," the four-time Iditarod champ from Denali Park said, his voice cracking. "This has turned my life upside down and has caused me countless nights of sleepless worry. I am deeply embarrassed by it all."
Prosecutor Stephen Cooper, assistant U.S. district attorney, asked Roberts to impose the maximum penalty on King and send him to jail for what he called "an obstruction of justice." Cooper contended that King initially lied to rangers about where he shot the moose and then lied under oath during the trial. He also accused King of fabricating evidence related to his use of a GPS.
"There was an element of deliberateness and misleading practiced on the rangers and on the court," Cooper argued. "Mr. King has lied three times on three occasions - to the rangers in the field, to the rangers when they served a search warrant at his house and to the court. It would be unrealistic if you didn't take that into account. If he hadn't lied to rangers in the field, you would have a totally different ball game."
In his comments to the judge, King denied lying to anyone at any time.
"I have not and will never willingly tell a lie," he said.
Defense attorney Myron Angstman called Cooper's recommendation for jail time "preposterous."
"This is a petty misdemeanor and should be treated as such," said Angstman, who asked that King be allowed to serve community service in lieu of a fine. "The only way you go to jail if you shoot a moose in Alaska is if you waste a substantial part of it or you are somehow commercially involved in profiting from that moose."
In the end, Roberts sided with the defense. He said there was not sufficient evidence that King lied under oath and that shooting the moose inside the park boundary was a case of poor judgment, not blatant disregard.
"This is not a case of failing to notch a harvest ticket or taking more than one moose in a season," Roberts said. "Basically, it's about taking a moose in a national park."
Only federally qualified subsistence users, which King is not, are allowed to hunt within park boundaries.
During the trial, King and Angstman argued that the boundary along the northeast edge of the park where King was hunting was poorly marked and that the park boundary was difficult to find on the park service's Web site.
But as a responsible hunter, it was up to King to know where the park boundary was located, whether it was marked or not, Roberts said.
"When you set out on a race you have to know where the trail is," Roberts said, alluding to King's mushing prowess. "If you don't, you do so at your own peril."
King, who has lived in Denali Park for 33 years and runs a mushing tour business in the summer that caters to park tourists, issued this statement following Roberts' decision.
"The whole thing has been an unpleasant experience, and I'm glad it's over. There was a silver lining for me in that it reminded me of the community support that rallied around Donna and me after our housefire in 1989. The support of my character came from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Iditarod board of directors, the mayor of the Denali Borough and other cherished long time friends. It was humbling to me to have so many good people support my integrity. I made an honest mistake, and I believe the fine was reasonable. I can't wait to get back on my sled and do what I do best."
Asked about his feelings toward the park service after Friday's sentencing, King said only, "I know there are a lot of good people over there, and I sure would have rather sat eye-to-eye with them over somebody's kitchen table and taken care of this than have it turn out the way it did. This got way out of hand."
Angstman, a dog mushing friend of King's who owns a private practice in Bethel and has practiced law in Alaska for 34 years, agreed.
"This whole thing is a study in how a petty misdemeanor can be taken to extremely high levels if the federal government desires, which seems to be the case here," Angstman said. "This is the longest petty misdemeanor I've ever been involved with."
Though he recommended jail time, a higher restitution amount and the revocation of King's hunting privileges for three years, Cooper accepted the fine handed down by Roberts.
"The judge decides," he said. "That's the way it is."
Though he still didn't agree with the guilty verdict issued by Roberts in October, Angstman said he was happy with Friday's outcome given Cooper's recommendation.
"There was a lot worse that could have happened," Angstman said.
King planned to pay the entire $4,750 penalty on Friday to avoid a 12-month probation period meant to ensure payment, Angstman said.