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Omak man sentenced in deer decapitations

Garret Elsberg pleads guilty, gets 5-year sentence

— A 25-year-old Omak man was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay more than $24,000 in penalties and restitution for illegally hunting deer.

Garret Victor James Elsberg, pleaded guilty April 11 to eight counts of first-degree unlawful hunting of big game, seven counts of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and second-degree unlawful hunting of big game.

Elsberg committed the crimes Sept. 1-30, 2012; Dec. 1-31, 2012; Jan. 2 and 25, 2013; and June 6, 2013, court records show.

He was sentenced to 60 months in prison and ordered to pay $24,220.50 in fines and fees, including a $20,000 penalty and $3,360 restitution to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Seventeen other charges were dismissed, court records show.

Elsberg was charged Oct. 15, 2013, with 33 counts involving illegal hunting in the “headless deer” case.

He originally was charged with eight counts of first-degree unlawful hunting of big game, a count of second-degree hunting of big game, five counts of unlawful hunting on or retrieving hunted wildlife from the property of another, seven counts of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, six counts of spotlighting big game and six counts of waste of fish and wildlife.

Several Fish and Wildlife agents spent months investigating the case. After a call for help from the public, several people provided leads, and Facebook posts also assisted in tracking down Elsberg and two other men suspected of killing deer, decapitating them and leaving their bodies to rot, probable cause statements said.

The case, dubbed the “Okanogan County Killing Spree Case” by wildlife agents, was referred to the Okanogan County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office last fall.

After receiving several reports of dead and decapitated deer, “officers began to coordinate with each other on the possibility of a serial poaching,” Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Dan Christensen wrote in a probable cause statement. “It appeared that these deer, from citizen reports, were being hunted at night with the aid of a motor vehicle.”

Christensen, one of several investigators, said a break in the case came when two outdoorsmen allegedly recognized the head of a 3x4 buck, known as the “pitchfork buck,” on Elsberg’s Facebook page.

The mule deer buck, familiar to people in the Salmon Creek area west of Okanogan, had three antler prongs on one side in a shape resembling a pitchfork and four prongs on the other side in a more conventional pattern, with two of the prongs in a palmated pattern, Christensen said in an interview.

Wildlife agents, executing one of several sealed warrants issued in the case, seized a deer head and matched it genetically to a carcass found in the Malott area, Christensen said.

The carcass was found on the west side of the Okanogan River, but the head was located on the Colville Indian Reservation.

The case began in fall 2012 and continued through winter 2013 when several large mule deer bucks were found killed in the Okanogan-Malott area and left to waste, with only the heads removed, a probable cause statement by wildlife officer Jason Day said.

In a separate case, Elsberg pleaded guilty to possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

Elsberg, who committed the crimes April 30, 2013, was sentenced to 60-plus months.

Two other charges were dismissed.

In a third filing, Elsberg pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree possession of stolen property.

Elsberg, who committed the crimes June 3, 2013, was sentenced to 29 months.

In a fourth filing, Elsberg pleaded guilty to second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and conspiracy to commit residential burglary.

Elsberg, who committed the crimes Dec. 21, 2013, was sentenced to 60 months.

Dismissed was a charge of making or having burglary tools and unlawfully carrying a loaded pistol in a vehicle.

The sentences are to be served concurrently.

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