Man accused of helping to kill more than 3,000 birds including eagles to plead guilty


A man accused of helping to kill more than 3,000 birds, including eagles, intends to plead guilty, court documents show.

Prosecutors allege Travis John Branson and others killed about 3,600 birds during a killing spree lasting years on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana and elsewhere.

According to the official documents, Branson, from Cusick in Washington State, is likely to admit wildlife trafficking and other criminal charges.

He will plead guilty under an agreement with prosecutors to reduced charges including conspiracy, wildlife trafficking, and two counts of unlawful trafficking of eagles.

According to the indictment, text messages obtained by investigators showed Branson and others telling buyers he was “on a killing spree”.

The intention was allegedly to collect eagle tail feathers for future sales.

A second suspect, Simon Paul, from St Ignatius in Montana, failed to arrive for an initial court appearance in early January and remains at large.

Prosecutors described Paul as a “shooter” and “shipper” for Branson.

Paul’s lawyer, Dwight Schulte, declined to comment.

Branson did not respond to a message, while his lawyer declined to comment on the plea agreement.

The defendants allegedly sold eagle parts on the black market.

US law prohibits anyone without a permit from killing, wounding or disturbing eagles or taking any parts such as nests or eggs.

But a large number of golden eagle deaths are the result of illegal shootings, according to a US government study.

Feathers from eagles and other birds are highly prized among many Native American tribes, and are used in sacred ceremonies and during pow-wows.

According to details disclosed during a separate trafficking case in South Dakota last year, immature golden eagle feathers are especially valued among tribes.

A tail set from one of the birds can sell for several hundred dollars.

In that trafficking case, a man from Montana was sentenced to three years in prison.

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