By Sylvie Belmond firstname.lastname@example.org
Southern California – Despite insisting multiple times that they didn’t own the tiger killed in the Tierra Rejada Valley early last year, Gert “Abby” Hedengran and his wife, Roena “Emma” Hedengran, reportedly plan to plead guilty to charges related to the incident, after making a deal with prosecutors.
A federal court hearing is set for Sept. 5.
Tuffy the tiger was shot after it escaped its owners and wandered in the rural region between Simi Valley and the Santa Rosa Valley for about three weeks.
Authorities alleged that the large carnivore belonged to the Hedengrans, who purposely misled investigators during a weeklong search in February 2005. The tiger was eventually found roaming near a city park in Moorpark that borders homes and schools next to the 23 Freeway. It was shot for safety reasons, authorities said at the time.
The Hedengrans now live with their exotic cats in Pahrump, Nev., 60 miles from Las Vegas. The couple was arrested in March of this year and were later released on their own recognizance after they were charged in connection with the shooting.
The couple faced initial charges that could have resulted in a maximum sentence of 60 years in federal prison for Gert Hedengran. Roena faced up to 10 years in federal prison, according to Assistant U.S. District Attorney Joseph Johns, who’s been handling the case.
They were due to appear in court recently, but the case was postponed because U.S. District Judge George H. King wanted more time to review the agreement before he made his decision.
“The defendants have signed plea agreements that have been filed with the District Court,” Johns said.
“The knee-jerk response of some folks was to criticize law enforcement for killing the tiger instead of trying to tranquilize it with darts,” he added.
But even with such a careful, conservative decision, he said, the first three rifle shots missed the tiger.
“It makes you wonder what might have happened if they had decided to tranquilize the tiger and all of the darts had then missed the target,” he said.
Had that been the case, criticism would have been heaped on law enforcement, especially if the tiger had escaped into the chaparral and later killed someone’s child, the district attorney said. “Law enforcement did the best they could in a difficult situation,” Johns said. “It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the terrible consequences that could have resulted from a 600-pound Siberian tiger stalking the purple sage hillsides and oak woodlands of suburban Moorpark.”
According to Nye County, Nev. Animal Control Supervisor Debbie Pemberton, housing for the exotic animals was deemed inadequate in April of this year and the Hedengrans were asked to add additional perimeter fencing. Pemberton said earlier this week that the animals’ containment in Nevada is now within county/USDA guidelines.