A 19-year-old Punahou School graduate was sentenced this afternoon to 45 days in jail, a $1,000 fine and 200 hours of community service for killing a Laysan albatross at Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve while camping with former schoolmates during his 2015 winter school break from New York University.
Christian Gutierrez must begin serving his jail sentence immediately. He also received one year’s probation.
Gutierrez had pleaded no contest in state court in March to one count each of misdemeanor animal cruelty and theft, petty misdemeanor criminal property damage and of committing prohibited acts involving indigenous wildlife and in a natural area reserve.
He had been charged with felony theft and animal cruelty in a case that involved the destruction of more than a dozen federally protected birds and their nests.
Circuit Court Judge Jeannette Castagnetti handed down the sentence this afternoon before a packed courtroom.
Gutierrez said in court that he wishes he had the courage not to go along and understands why people are angry and disgusted. “I am ashamed of myself,” he said.
The small courtroom’s gallery was standing-room-only for his sentencing, where a stuffed albatross sat on the prosecution table. Castagnetti listened for several hours as wildlife conservationists and state officials described the impact of the destruction.
“He turned my favorite place on Earth into a crime scene,” Lindsay Young, executive director of Pacific Rim Conservation said through tears, describing how the crimes left her “life’s work and spirit shattered.”
Prosecutors and environmentalists wanted the judge to sentence Gutierrez to a year in prison. His attorney, Myles Breiner, argued for a deferral because of his youth, lack of criminal record and a psychologist’s assessment that he has “zero” likelihood of re-offending.
The prosecutor agreed to let Gutierrez plead no contest to reduced charges in exchange for his cooperation against two other former Punahou students who were juveniles when they are alleged to have participated in the killing of Laysan albatrosses at Kaena Point. Their cases were handled in state Family Court where proceedings are kept confidential.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which owns and manages the natural area reserve at Kaena Point, says at least 15 adult birds were killed and 17 albatross nests were destroyed Dec. 27, 2015. DLNR says six albatross eggs died after the incubating parent was killed and 11 eggs were crushed.
Also, Pacific Rim Conservation, the nonprofit group that conducts research at Kaena point, had cameras and other electronic equipment stolen or damaged.
In a pre-sentencing memo to the court, Deputy Prosecutor Janice Futa sought the maximum penalty, citing “the savagery and lack of conscience on the part of the perpetrators that cannot be excused by their age, upbringing or peer pressure.”
Breiner, however, insists that his client was “a follower” and shouldn’t be held responsible for the group’s actions.
Breiner said Gutierrez is disappointed that Castagnetti didn’t grant him a deferral of his no contest pleas, which would have given him the opportunity to avoid conviction and to eventually have the charges dismissed.
“We thought that he deserved a deferral. We’re disappointed that the court gave him any jail at all. Hopefully when he gets out he’ll be able to resume his studies in New York,” Breiner said.
Castagnetti told Gutierrez he didn’t deserve a deferral. “The nature and circumstances of the crimes you plead to shock the conscience. The killing of the defenseless and protected birds was inexcusable,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.