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Crime & Courts

Botanist pleads guilty to threatening Chicago officials over shooting of wild cougar in city

A Chicago botanist has pleaded guilty to federal charges of mailing threatening letters to then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and others after authorities shot to death a wild cougar in the city in 2008.

Richard D. Hyerczyk (HEYE'-er-chek) appeared in federal court Thursday, charged with one count of mailing a threatening communication. The 54-year-old entered a guilty plea before Judge Gary Feinerman as part of a deal. Prosecutors say Hyerczyk was released pending his sentencing because he isn't considered a threat.

Hyerczyk is an instructor at the Chicago Botanical Garden. The institution's website describes him as a lichen expert.

Cougars were thought to be extinct in Illinois. But in April 2008, police shot one running through a residential neighborhood. Biologists later said the cougar made its way to Illinois through Wisconsin.

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