grizzly bear
A grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in February 2023. Credit: USGS

Montana Man Who Admitted To Killing a Grizzly Bear Plans to Appeal Jail Sentence

An 80-year-old man who got two months in jail for killing a grizzly bear after entering a guilty plea said he plans to appeal his case.

An 80-year-old Montana man who got two months in jail and a $10,000 fine for killing a grizzly bear after entering a guilty plea said he plans to appeal his case.

Othel Lee Pearson told The Western News that he felt disrespected by the judge who presided over his case. "I've never been talked to the way Judge (Donald) Molloy talked to me," Pearson said. "I feel they'd rather pick my corpse and my wife's corpse up instead of the bear."

Pearson maintained that when he shot the bear in November 2020, he did so in self-defense. Afterward, he didn't know what to do with it, so he cut it up and put it in his fridge.

In turn, federal prosecutors charged Pearson in February with a felony charge of tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor charge of failure to report taking a grizzly bear, which has protections under federal law.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich called Pearson's conduct "troubling" and described it as an attempt to cover up the killing, which is why they sought felony charges.

What Pearson admitted to doing

In court documents, prosecutors argued that Pearson shot and killed a sow grizzly bear at his property in Lincoln County. Then, he cut a GPS collar off the bear and discarded it in the nearby Yaak River. They added that Pearson had also removed the paws, ear tags, and an identifying lip tattoo from the bear's carcass.

Prosecutors also argued that Pearson hid the bear's claws and an ear tag in a hollowed-out tree on national forest land near his home. Investigators also found meat inside of the Pearson's freezer.

In January, Pearson entered a plea agreement admitting to the aforementioned charges. In exchange, he agreed to forfeit his Winchester Model 70 Featherweight rifle chambered in .270. And the government agreed not to prosecute Pearson or his wife, Marcia Pearson, in connection with a grizzly bear skull discovered near their property.

Pearson's sentence for grizzly bear killing

For his crimes, prosecutors explained in a sentencing memo that federal guidelines permit 12 to 18 months of imprisonment. However, they asked for a lesser sentence due to his age and because he pleaded guilty to the felony charge. In response, Pearson's attorneys said they agreed with the sentence of three years of probation and an $8,000 fine.

Ahead of sentencing, Pearson's attorneys described his life as a college professor, a loving father, and a devoted husband. They wrote that he had raised four kids with his wife of 62 years. They also "dropped everything to help care for their grandson when their daughter was diagnosed with cancer."

Pearson's attorneys also addressed the charges, arguing that he acted in defense of himself and his wife. "No man wants to face down an apex predator at their doorstep," they wrote. And added that he accepted accountability for his "criminal conduct" after killing the bear.

Attorneys argued that because of the charges, Pearson moved away from the area where he killed the bear and gave up all of his firearms. "Othel's criminal acts were not borne of premeditation or malice, but out of fear and ignorance of the responsibilities he owed to the community upon killing a protected species," they said, adding that he is not one to contact the government for help.

In the end, the judge sentenced Pearson to serve two months in jail followed by four months of house arrest and three years of probation. He will also have to pay a $10,000 fine. According to his judgment, Pearson will have to self-report to jail. He told the newspaper that he gave his information to the U.S. Marshal's Office, but he hasn't heard when or where.