An environmentalist couple from Durango, Colo. is facing charges for allegedly trying to kill cattle by closing a gate that was wired open on rancher Zane Odell’s corral on Lime Ridge, between Bluff and Mexican Hat in San Juan County. Rose Chilcoat and her husband Mark Franklin admittedly closed the gate last April while they were in the area. Franklin’s action allegedly would have restricted Odell’s cattle from accessing water.
A wildlife camera that was mounted nearby captured Franklin’s red Toyota and camp trailer both entering and exiting the property around the same time that the gate was closed.
Odell, who owns both the camera and cattle, reviewed the photos in an attempt to figure out what happened after noticing his gate was closed. Odell was not sure as to why someone would close the gate, other than to cut off the cattle’s access to water within the corral, which would cause death to his herd. The corral sits on state trust land leased from Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration (SITLA).
San Juan County prosecutor Kendall Laws alleges that Franklin was, in fact, trying to harm the cattle when he closed the gate. Franklin could potentially face up to 16 years in prison if he is found guilty. Chilcoat, who happens to be a retired National Park ranger-turned-environmental activist, could face up to 20 years.
After a flurry of filings from both sides earlier this month, Judge Lyle Anderson from Seventh District Court granted the defense lawyers’ request to move the trial, which was to be held on May 23 in Monticello, to a new venue. The reasoning behind the Defense’s request is that San Juan County residents purportedly hold a long grudge toward the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, an environmental group that has been very active about public lands and grazing issues in San Juan County. Chilcoat recently retired as Executive Director of the group.
Judge Anderson’s ruling states that the couple would not receive a fair trial in San Juan County because of bias within the community. “If jurors and prospective jurors know defendants are associated with the Great Old Broads,” Anderson wrote, “it is difficult to see how this court can seat an impartial jury.”
The duo’s trial will be moved to Seventh District Court in Price.