A Colorado man accused of trying to kill a Utah rancher's cattle is scheduled to go to trial next week. Mark Franklin, Durango, Colo., will be tried in Utah’s Carbon County on charges of trespassing and wanton destruction of livestock.
Prosecutors claim Franklin closed a rancher’s corral gate on grazing lands in southeastern Utah in an attempt to purposely cut the cattle off from water in 2017. If convicted, Franklin faces up to six years in jail.
“Mr. Franklin looks forward to his day in court and is confident the evidence will exonerate him,” said Franklin’s attorney, Paul Cassell, a professor of law at the University of Utah.
The case has taken many twists and turns over the past two years, according to The Durango Herald. It began when Utah rancher Zane Odell noticed the closed gate between two pastures. Trail cameras reportedly captured images of a vehicle that stopped at the gate, and, two days later, Odell stopped the same car driving by and called the police.
When deputies arrived, Franklin admitted to closing the gate, though he never offered an explanation of why, other than to say he was “helping” the rancher. Franklin and his wife, prominent local environmentalist Rose Chilcoat, said a large section of fence was down, allowing the cattle access to water. Odell has conceded that point.
The couple were released without charges, but nine days later the San Juan County Attorney’s office filed felony and misdemeanor charges. The Durango couple claim the charges are an act of retaliation for Chilcoat’s years of environmental work with the Great Old Broads for Wilderness in San Juan County, where public lands and grazing issues are highly contentious.
Charges against Chilcoat were dismissed last July for lack of evidence, but Franklin’s trial will begin April 1 in Carbon County after a judge said he would not get a fair trial in San Juan County.
Franklin’s most serious charge is “wanton destruction of livestock,” a third-degree felony that carries up to five years in prison. The second charge, trespassing on state lands, carries up to one year in jail. Chilcoat and Franklin maintain they have never used violence or civil disobedience in all their years of environmental work.