A Superior Court judge in Norwalk Jan. 10 granted alleged bear poacher Antonio Lio of Wilton accelerated rehabilitation, a pre-trial intervention program that will place him on probation for two years, after which his record will be expunged.
Lio, 28, must avoid further arrests for the next two years and his hunting license will be suspended for the duration.
He must also perform 40 hours of public service within the next year, according to the ruling by Judge Alex Hernandez.
He was facing two counts of illegal taking of black bear and one count of fourth-degree negligent hunting.
“These are serious charges, as you can see from the public reaction,” Hernandez told Lio, who stood silently beside his attorney, Kevin Black of Wilton. Hernandez was referring to the animal rights protesters who appeared outside the courthouse on each of his court dates, including the one Jan. 10. There was also a lot of news coverage.
“But these charges are not so serious that you should be denied the accelerated rehabilitation program,” the judge said, pointing out that Lio had no previous criminal record and had several letters of support for his acceptance into the program. It is a program intended for first-time offenders.
Black told the judge why Lio killed the two bears, something that had not come out previously. He said Lio’s wife was pregnant, and on the day before the incident, had become hysterical over the sight of the two black bears near her home.
Lio acted to protect his family, Black told the judge.
The outcome did not go over well with animal activists.
“His actions suggest premeditation to trophy hunt,” said Annie Hornish, Connecticut state director for the Humane Society of the United States. She sat in the courtroom observing the proceedings.
“We’re disappointed that he got accelerated rehabilitation,” Hornish said.
A group of protesters stood outside the courthouse holding printed signs proclaiming animal rights while the proceedings took place.
If Lio abides by the terms set by Hernandez for the next two years, it brings to an end the drama that began last Sept. 16, when officers from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Environmental Conservation (EnCon) Police responded to a report of a bear killing in Wilton. They found Lio exiting the woods allegedly carrying a bear skin, head and paws stored in his backpack. He was accompanied by Daniel Moran, 33, of Norwalk.
Moran on Nov. 30 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit illegal taking of black bear, and subjected himself to the maximum penalty, a $500 fine.
The animal rights activists promised to work toward having crimes against animals be taken more seriously in the legal system.