OTTAWA, Ill. (AP) — A northern Illinois nature photographer has been found not guilty on charges of illegally taking two injured baby eagles from the wild, four months after his first trial ended with a deadlocked jury.
Steve Patterson of Oglesby was accused of illegally taking the federally protected birds from a spot near his home in June 2013 and arranging for their rehabilitation at a Barrington wildlife center even though conservation officials told him to leave them alone.
Jurors decided for Patterson on Thursday.
Prosecutors had argued that Patterson should have followed orders from state Conservation Police, who told him not to touch the birds. They also said he has a history of tampering with wildlife. The judge did not permit testimony that the birds would have died if left on their own.
After the verdict, Patterson said he felt vindicated because one of the eagles was released to the wild on Jan. 1 and another remains at the rehab center.
Center director Dawn Keller issued a statement saying she was happy about Patterson’s acquittal and that she was “shocked to learn that Steve had been arrested after saving the lives of these injured eaglets,” because her center accepts more than 1,500 federally protected birds every year from members of the public.
Juror Paige Groleau of Ottawa said Patterson’s emotional testimony helped sway the panel.
“His passion was noticed by everyone on the jury,” Groleau said. “I believe Steve Patterson did the right thing.”
A jury deadlocked during Patterson’s first trial last October, although most members voted to convict him.
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