WHITESBURG - An Eastern Kentucky man charged with illegally killing a bear in his back yard has refused to plead guilty in order to avoid the possibility of jail time, opting instead to have his case heard in front of a jury.
Terry Brock, 36, of Mayking, said the bear was a renegade and that he killed it to protect his family.
The Letcher County man faces from 30 days to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted. He said the county prosecutor offered a plea bargain that would have required no jail time, but he would have had to pay a $250 penalty, give up his hunting privileges and the heirloom 30-30 caliber rifle he used to shoot the bear.
"I didn't want to do that," Brock said. "I don't feel like I did anything wrong."
District Judge Jim Wood set Brock's trial for Sept. 20.
Brock, who has three children, said he walked out his door on June 2 to see what had his dogs and horse so disturbed and came face to face with the bear. He said he jumped back inside, asked his wife to call the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife for help, and began banging on the wall of his mobile home, hoping the noise would frighten the wild animal away.
When that didn't work, Brock said he grabbed the rifle and fired.
"It seems like he had a right to protect his family, his dogs, his horse, from this bear," defense attorney Jamie Hatton said. "It's not like he was poaching."
Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling couldn't be reached to comment Wednesday. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, which filed the charge against Brock, doesn't want the case dropped.
"This is our first case," Frank Campbell, a conservation officer assigned to Letcher County, told WYMT-TV in Hazard. "I feel it's a very important case for us."
In a region where complaints about the protected animals are on the increase, a trial could test how jurors in Eastern Kentucky perceive the shooting of black bears that wander into residential areas.
One other such case is pending in Knox County, where a man allegedly killed a bear in his garden because it continued coming toward him after he fired a warning shot.
Black bears thrived in the area more than 100 years ago, before logging and over-hunting led to their disappearance. Over the past 20 years, they have been venturing back into Kentucky from forests in Virginia and West Virginia. Now, for the first time in more than a century, Kentucky has a self-sustaining black bear population and residents of the mountainous region along the state's eastern border are having to learn to live alongside them.
Mark Marraccini, spokesman for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said last week that conflicts between bears and people would decrease if people stopped leaving food and household garbage where bears can get it.
Brock, who has pleaded not guilty to illegally killing the bear, said he couldn't believe he was accused of a crime. He said the bear swatted at his dogs and had his horse so spooked that he feared it might break a leg trying to get out of its stall.
"I don't think people should be shooting these bears under most circumstances," Hatton said. "Under this circumstance only should you be allowed to shoot a bear."