Troy Man Pleads Guilty to Evidence Tampering in Grizzly Bear Killing

Othel Lee Pearson entered a plea deal with federal prosecutors that recommends three years of probation and an $8,000 fine

By Maggie Dresser
Grizzly bear. Photo courtesy of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

An 80-year-old Troy man on Thursday admitted to tampering with evidence in the shooting of a grizzly bear on his property in 2020 when he discarded the bear’s GPS collar in the Yaak River, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Othel Lee Pearson pleaded guilty on Feb. 15 to an amended felony charge of tampering with evidence and a misdemeanor charge of failure to report taking a grizzly bear as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. U.S. District Court Judge Donald W. Molloy presided at the plea hearing.

Pearson faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release on the evidence tampering charge and a maximum of six months in prison and a $25,000 fine on the failure to report charge.

According to the plea agreement, prosecutors and the defendant jointly recommended to the court a sentence of three years of probation and an $8,000 fine, which is the restitution amount of illegally killing a grizzly bear under Montana state statute.

In exchange for the guilty pleas, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agrees not to prosecute another individual in connection with the taking of the grizzly bear and Pearson agrees to cooperate regarding the skull of a second grizzly bear discovered on National Forest lands near his property.

According to court documents, Pearson on Nov. 19, 2020 shot and killed a sow grizzly bear on his residential property using a .270 rifle and he cut a GPS collar fitted to the bear and discarded it into the nearby Yaak River.

Pearson also cut paws, ear tags and an identifying lip tattoo from the bear carcass. He then concealed the bear claws and an ear tag in a hollowed-out tree on National Forest land near his residence, records state.

Pearson tampered with these identifying objects to impair the criminal prosecution for the unlawful killing of the grizzly bear. He did not report the grizzly bear killing to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within five days of the incident.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Tanner is prosecuting the case. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the investigation.

Pearson’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 6. He was released pending further proceedings.