Judge calls prosecution in sea turtle case ‘heartless’

DEFENDANT: Texner Luther, also known as Nahlick, 47, was scheduled to be sentenced before Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood on Wednesday. Luther pleaded guilty to possession of a threatened species, in this case a green sea turtle. Nick Delgado/The Guam Daily Post

The man who admitted that that he bought a threatened species will have to wait to find out his fate in the District Court of Guam.

Texner Luther, also known as Nahlick, 47, was scheduled to be sentenced before Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood on Wednesday.

He has since pleaded guilty to possession of a threatened species, admitting he paid $75 for a green sea turtle so that he could have it as a meal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Leon Guerrero recommended that Luther be sentenced to one year of probation, and perform 75 hours of community service.

“He’s being prosecuted for buying a dead turtle?” said Tydingco-Gatewood.

“The turtle that he purchased is a threatened species,” Leon Guerrero said.

Tydingco-Gatewood noted that Luther did not have any criminal history, and asked the government why they did not offer him the option of a diversion.

A diversion deal allows the defendant to avoid a criminal conviction on their record if they successfully complete a rehabilitation program and a period of probation, according to Cornell Law School.

Leon Guerrero told the court that they compared Luther’s case to similar cases to determine his fate.

But, the chief judge said, “That’s heartless there, Mr. Leon Guerrero. This is a court of justice and the U.S. prosecutors decided to go after someone who bought a dead turtle? ... I’m surprised this is happening here.”

She set the sentencing hearing to Dec. 9 to allow both the prosecution and U.S. Probation more time to come up with a recommendation that includes a diversion.

“I’m not trying to downplay the fact that turtle aren’t an endangered species. Like a lot of people, I love turtles,” she said.

Luther previously told the court that he bought the turtle from Juliano Manual. Manual was charged with two counts of possession of a threatened species and two counts of sale of a threatened species, but he fled the island and remains on the run from federal authorities, Post files state.

Luther was charged along with C.J. Luther, also known as King, for unlawfully and knowingly taking, possessing, carrying and transporting a green sea turtle on Jan. 12, 2019.

The Luthers, along with Manual, Kehdes Paulino and Isaac Paulino, were each arrested in 2019 after conservation officers with the Department of Agriculture were tipped off about a sea turtle being held in a child's swimming pool in Talo'fo'fo'.

No charges have been filed in federal court against the Paulinos.

Green sea turtles, known in CHamoru as håggan, are listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in all areas under U.S. jurisdiction, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is illegal to catch or possess them.

Although the breeding population of turtles found around Guam may be small, they are still vital contributors to the genetic diversity of the species, according to Fish and Wildlife.

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