Judge throws the book at big-game poacher

Charles Douglas Cochran gets 60 days in jail, $15,500 in fines and has his hunting privileges revoked for life

A big-game poacher responsible for illegally killing more than two dozen deer and elk was ordered by a judge Wednesday to pay the state more than $15,000 for the animals he killed in the what is the largest restitution ever levied in a Southern Oregon wildlife case.

Charles Douglas Cochran also was ordered to spend 60 days in jail and had his hunting privileges revoked for life as part of a suite of charges folded into a plea agreement in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Included in the cases were aggravated theft and burglary charges stemming from the theft of more than $10,000 worth of electronics from Eagle Point High School in December as well as drug, felony theft and other charges racked up since his initial wildlife arrest two years ago, court records show.

Cochran was ordered to pay the $15,000 in restitution for the poached animals, plus $500 to the state's Turn In Poachers tip line and to serve three years' probation.

Circuit Judge Patricia Crain also ordered the forfeiture of all rifles and other weapons seized from his Eagle Point residence in February 2012 and in subsequent run-ins with Oregon State Police as recently as last month.

The seizures include 21 sets of blacktailed deer antlers, four rifles, a bow, pelts from 10 bobcats, foxes and other fur-bearing animals, along with frozen and unprocessed game meat from the initial search of Cochran's Clear View Way residence.

"I assume for you the worst punishment is you can't hunt again for the rest of your life," Crain told Cochran during the lengthy sentencing hearing.

"Bows, arrows, guns, you can't do any of that, forever, which is probably a good thing," Crain said.

Along with the 60 days in jail, Cochran was ordered to take part in drug court, with the judge noting that for some of his crimes he could have gone straight to state prison instead.

"If you flunk out of drug court, you will go to prison. But at this point, not," Crain said.

Cochran's wife and son were in attendance, with Cochran often looking their way as the guilty pleas rolled on.

"I'm heartbroken right now," said Cochran, wearing Jackson County Jail garb. "Being away from my wife is difficult."

Of the 13 charges to which he pleaded guilty, the most serious were aggravated first-degree theft and second-degree burglary from the school break-in and theft. He also admitted to fleeing that crime scene in a stolen car.

Crain gave prosecutors 90 days to pencil out their restitution requests for the nonwildlife cases.

Cochran's latest case occurred Jan. 17 when he was caught spotlighting a deer with his vehicle headlights.

"He was a thief, a burglar and a poacher all at the same time," said Sgt. Kirk Meyer of the OSP's Fish and Wildlife Division. "He's huge. He's been our main player. We've been catching him time and time again."

The restitution amount for the wildlife charges could have been well over twice what was agree upon in the plea deal, Meyer said.

Under restitution rates adopted in 2009 by the Oregon Legislature, each poached deer can lead to restitution of up to $1,000, while a so-called "trophy" deer defined as having at least one antler with four points or more can cost up to $7,500.

A poached elk fetches up to $1,500, while a trophy elk having at least one antler with six points can cost the poacher up to $15,000.

The cases occurred primarily in the Lake Creek and Salt Creek drainages. Those are part of the Cascade foothills' area classified as prime winter-range habitat for migratory blacktailed deer, which recent Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife studies show suffer greatly from poaching.

Mark Vargas, the ODFW's Rogue District wildlife biologist, said stiff restitution orders and lifetime hunting bans can help deter the impacts poachers have on wildlife.

"That's part of what we want the courts to do — take this seriously — and they did," Vargas said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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