Hawaii

Student pleads not guilty in Hawaii albatross killings

This Dec. 29, 2015, photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows an albatross that had been killed on its nest with an egg at Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve on the westernmost point of Oahu in Hawaii.

This Dec. 29, 2015, photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources shows an albatross that had been killed on its nest with an egg at Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve on the westernmost point of Oahu in Hawaii.  (AP)

A 19-year-old college student accused of killing seabirds at a Hawaii nature reserve pleaded not guilty Tuesday to animal cruelty.

Defendant Christian Gutierrez didn't speak with news reporters as he and his attorney left a Honolulu courthouse after the brief arraignment.

He turned himself in to the Hawaii Department of Public Safety last week and was released on $25,000 bail. He made arrangements with prosecutors to surrender while he was home in Honolulu for winter break from school, his defense attorney, Myles Breiner said.

According to a police report, he attends New York University.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources began investigating after three Laysan albatrosses were found dead last year in Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve. There were 12 attending adult albatrosses missing, which was concerning because the birds never leave an egg unattended, the department said. There were also 15 destroyed nests with smashed, dead or missing eggs, the department added.

The Laysan albatross is a federally protected species.

Court documents charging Gutierrez with 14 counts of animal cruelty and other charges say the crimes took place Dec. 27, 2015. He's also accused of the theft of seabird monitoring cameras and sound equipment valued at $3,100.

Breiner said last week that his client was camping at Kaena Point with classmates from Punahou School, a prestigious prep school in Honolulu.

"He was there when this happened but he did not injure any birds," Breiner said. "He didn't do it. He didn't maim or touch the animals, period."

Breiner said there have been two other arrests related to the case that are being handled in juvenile court.

Punahou School said in a statement that it condemned the destruction of the albatross nesting area and was disturbed to hear teens with ties to the school may have been involved.