News and Press Releases

Two Defendants, Who Played Largest Role in Hunt, Will Face Trial

March 28, 2008

Three members of the Makah Tribe pleaded guilty late yesterday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to unlawfully taking a marine mammal. The three were part of the group of five who illegally participated in a whale hunt that resulted in the killing of a gray whale off the northwest coast of Washington on September 8, 2007. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan says prosecutors will recommend that the court impose lengthy terms of probation, as much as 100 hours of community service, and whatever fine is recommended by Federal Probation.

“Both tribal members and non-tribal citizens have condemned the illegal killing of this whale,” said United States Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan. “We believe these defendants were less culpable than the two remaining defendants. The government is fully prepared to go to trial on the charges against the remaining defendants.”

Sullivan noted that should the Makah Tribe receive a permit to whale, tribal leaders will need to determine whether it is appropriate for these men to participate in the hunt. “These men have damaged the reputation of the Makah Tribe. It is up to the Tribe to determine the sanction in their community.”

FRANKIE GONZALES, THERON PARKER, and WILLIAM SECOR admitted in their plea agreements that they participated in the September 8, 2007 hunt. Defendants ANDREW NOEL and WAYNE JOHNSON chose to go to trial. According to the facts in the plea agreement, on September 7, 2007, ANDREW NOEL took possession of three high powered rifles maintained by the Makah Tribal Whaling Commission. Later the same day, ANDREW NOEL obtained use of a 12-foot boat from the harbor master of the Makah Marina. ANDREW NOEL subsequently took a large red buoy from the tribe’s inventory of whaling equipment.

On the morning of September 8, 2007, the defendants departed the Makah Marina with ANDREW NOEL and WAYNE JOHNSON in the 12-foot boat and FRANKIE GONZALES, THERON PARKER, and WILLIAM SECOR in a second 19-foot boat. The defendants carried two tribal firearms, several whaling harpoons, and numerous large plastic buoys. Shortly after departing the marina, the defendants encountered a gray whale in the area of Seal Rock near Neah Bay. The defendants pursued the whale, striking it numerous times with harpoons. One or more of the harpoon strikes allowed the defendants to tether a rope to the whale to which some of the large plastic buoys were attached. The buoys were attached to impede the whale’s progress and prevent it from escaping. The defendants then used the .577 and .460 caliber rifles to shoot the whale, striking it numerous times.

The defendants were taken into custody by the U.S. Coast Guard shortly after shooting the whale. The whale died on the evening of September 8, 2007 and sank off of Tatoosh Island near Cape Flattery.

FRANKIE GONZALES, THERON PARKER, and WILLIAM SECOR are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelley Arnold on June 6, 2008. ANDREW NOEL and WAYNE JOHNSON will go to trial on April 8, 2008.

The case is being investigated by the NOAA Fisheries Service Office of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle, who leads the U.S. Attorney’s Office Environmental Crimes Working Group, and Assistant United States Attorney Carl Blackstone.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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