Prosecutors say there was an active bald eagle nest located on Mathew's property and he had been planning to capture a young eagle for the purposed of training it in falconry. Mathew testified in his defense and claimed the bird was out of its nest and on a tree limb, and that he had instructed two ranch hands to remove it.
However, testimony indicated the bird was actually still in its nest when they were about to capture it. The eagle apparently got scared and fell out of the tree at that time and Mathew and one of the ranch hands caught it.
US Fish and Wildlife Service officials learned of the eagle and that the nest housing it had apparently been disturbed and went to the residence. Upon arrival, they noticed there were fresh tire tracks around the tree and several broken branches as well as a set of tree climbing gear with ropes.
The MBTA does allow the possession of nongame birds, but only if they are injured, sick or orphaned and if they are immediately transported to be rehabilitated. Mathew claimed he thought the bird was injured and was rescuing it to take it to a rehabilitator. The jury disagreed and found him guilty as charged. The jury returned its verdict late Tuesday after two days of trial and approximately an hour of deliberations.
Mathew was permitted to remain on bond pending his sentencing hearing to be held in February 2013. At that time, he faces up to six months in federal prison and a maximum $15,000 fine.