Man Who Killed Whooping Cranes Sentenced to 11 Months in Federal Prison After Breaking Probation
So much for second chances.
Last fall, a federal judge in Beaumont gave Trey Frederick a second chance. The then 19-year-old had pleaded guilty to shooting and killing two endangered whooping cranes just west of Beaumont in January, and faced up to a year in jail for his crime. (I wrote about Frederick’s brazen shooting of the cranes for the September 2016 issue of Texas Monthly.) Federal Magistrate Judge Zack Hawthorn—perhaps swayed by Frederick’s youth—opted to give him five years probation instead of any jail time, in addition to $25,815 in restitution. While on probation, Frederick was banned from hunting anywhere in the United States and from possessing a weapon. But Frederick, it seems, knows how to squander an opportunity.
One barred from hunting for five years might think twice about shooting a feral hog out of the window of his truck with a semi-automatic rifle from a public road, but, despite Frederick’s plea of innocence, an affidavit filed in Jefferson County in May states that’s exactly what Frederick did one night this February under a waning moon.
The events that unfolded that evening sound like a particularly unsavory episode of the reality TV show Swamp People. On February 17, according to the affidavit and court testimony, Frederick was driving a few friends to some private land, where they had obtained permission to go hog hunting, when they spotted a large feral hog on Steinhagen Road, south of Beaumont. Frederick asked his friend to hand him the AR-15 in his backseat, then rolled down the window and began shooting at the hairy pig. When the hog ran around to the other side of the truck, his friends drew their handguns and shot at it through the passenger windows before Frederick jumped out of the car and shot and killed the pig in a ditch. He warned his friends he couldn’t be photographed with the dead hog or he’d get in trouble. (That didn’t stop the other men from posing for pictures with the hog carcass.) Then they returned to Frederick’s home, transferred the hog to a friend’s truck, and headed to a nearby convenience store, where Frederick noticed a possum ambling near the side of the building and grabbed it, smashing it repeatedly against the concrete before blithely tossing its lifeless body into the truck bed.
A confidential informant brought these events to the attention of Texas Game Warden Daniel Pope, who questioned the men who were present. Afterwards, he alerted federal authorities that Frederick had violated the conditions of his probation, setting in motion a series of hearings to revoke his probation.
Judge Hawthorne was obviously unhappy to see Frederick back in his courtroom on Thursday morning. “You could feel the anger coming out of the judge,” one person present in the courtroom told me. Sitting in the audience were eight members of the Houston and Golden Triangle Audubon societies. Frederick, now 20, has been in federal custody since early June. He appeared in court in chains, wearing a black-and-white-striped prison jumpsuit and orange crocs. His demeanor, however, remained defiant. He shook his head in apparent disbelief as his friends who were present for the February hunt testified against him (They also testified that Frederick had approached each of them individually and asked them to lie about what took place that February evening.)
In the hearing it also emerged that that since Frederick was sentenced in October, he had not regularly reported to his probation officer, nor had he paid any restitution. Additionally, he also tried to purchase a gun, as well as a Montana hunting license. When Hawthorn gave Frederick a chance to speak at the end of the hearing, he did not take the opportunity to apologize. Instead, he maintained all the testimony had been false. But Hawthorne was unswayed by this, and announced he was sentencing Frederick to 11 months in federal prison, followed by one year of supervised release. This was two months more than Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Batte had asked for.
“Trey Frederick was given the opportunity of probation when he was first convicted of killing two federally protected whooping cranes. Apparently, Mr. Frederick did not appreciate the leniency he was given, and today, he learned the consequences,” acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston said in a news release. “Mr. Frederick will now have 11 months to contemplate his actions.”
Members of the birding community were satisfied with the new sentence. “I think this should have been done to start with,” Houston Sliger, who works for Houston Audubon on High Island, told me. “He absolutely squandered [his second chance].”
Ryan Gertz, the attorney recently hired by Frederick’s family to represent him at his resentencing hearing, said he was disappointed with the outcome of the hearing. “Trey had just gotten a job out of state as a union welder that would have paid him handsomely and would have permitted him to make restitution,” Gertz said. “We’re disappointed he won’t have the opportunity to do that now.”
Frederick also faces state charges in Jefferson County for hunting after his license was suspended and hunting from a public road, class A and class C misdemeanors, respectively. Jefferson County District Attorney Bob Wortham told me that his office will ask the U.S. Attorney’s office for guidance on whether to pursue those charges. “We will discuss with the U.S. Attorney’s Office what they would like us to do, and if they want us to pursue it, we will,” he said.