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HONOLULU – A 19-year-old college student pleaded no contest Thursday in a case involving seabirds killed at a Hawaii nature reserve.
Christian Gutierrez pleaded no contest to animal cruelty, theft and other charges. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to dismiss 14 remaining counts.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources began investigating after three Laysan albatrosses were found dead in December 2015 at the 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.
A photo from the department showed a bird's severed leg.
The Laysan albatross is a federally protected species.
Gutierrez attends New York University, according to a police report.
Gutierrez's statement filed in court said while he was camping with others at Kaena Point, they entered a prohibited area and "participated in illegal activities that resulted in the death of numerous albatross birds and eggs and the theft and destruction of surveillance equipment owned by the Pacific Rim Conservation Organization."
His defense attorney, Myles Breiner, has said Gutierrez was camping with classmates from Punahou, a prestigious Honolulu prep school. Gutierrez was the only one who was 18 and the other cases are being handled in family court, Breiner said.
"Because he was an adult he became the face and the name associated with this incident," Breiner said. "Whereas all the individuals involved ... they are taking advantage of being a few months shy of their 18th birthday."
Pleading no contest is Gutierrez's way of taking responsibility, Breiner said.
"The plea deal was necessary to secure evidence against others who may be involved," said Chuck Parker, spokesman for the Honolulu prosecuting attorney's office.
A cooperation agreement with prosecutors says that Gutierrez must pay restitution to Pacific Rim Conservation Group and must write an apology letter to them.
"He's 19 years old and very intelligent and has a bright career ahead," Breiner said.
The maximum sentence for animal cruelty is a year in prison. Breiner is asking the judge to defer acceptance of the plea, which would allow Gutierrez to avoid a conviction if he stays out of trouble for a specified amount of time.