COEUR d'ALENE - A man charged with unlawfully shooting and killing a grizzly bear had so many supporters at his arraignment Tuesday in federal court that the judge had to move the hearing to a larger courtroom.
Even there, every seat was taken as his family, friends and neighbors, young and old, squeezed in.
Jeremy M. Hill, 33, pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court to killing the animal with a rifle on his 20-acre property near Porthill, Idaho, at the Canadian border. He lives five miles from the closest grizzly bear recovery zone.
The grizzly bear is classified as a threatened species in the lower 48 states, according to the Endangered Species Act, and protected by federal law. Hill's charge is a misdemeanor.
Magistrate Judge Candy Dale set trial, at least for now, for Oct. 4.
Hill has declined comment. His lawyer, Marc Lyons of Coeur d'Alene, said he plans to defend Hill on the basis of self-defense and protection of family.
Following the hearing, his father, Mike Hill, of Athol, said, "This whole thing is a waste of taxpayer money."
He said his son was concerned for the safety of his children playing outside when a mother grizzly and two cubs wandered onto his property on May 8.
Jeremy Hill has six kids, ranging in age from 14 years old to 10 months old. At least five were home when the grizzly was killed, Mike Hill said.
The bears had gone after some pigs in a pen that the kids had been raising, Mike Hill said.
He said his son shot one of the bears, then called authorities to notify them of the kill. The other two bears ran off.
He said his son could have just buried the animal and not said anything to law enforcement. He said his son is being penalized for coming forward.
State Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, attended the hearing in full support of Jeremy Hill.
"The charges are simply unjust," she said following the hearing. "Hopefully common sense will prevail. It's clearly an issue of protecting the family."
She predicted that punishing someone who reported killing a grizzly will damage government efforts to protect the animals.
She said nearly $20,000 was raised by community members for Hill's defense.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho was asked about the case while appearing in Sandpoint on Tuesday.
While Labrador said he needed to be careful in dealing with the prosecutorial side of things, he did have this to say:
"Clearly, we have a problem with the ESA when situations like this happen." He later added, "We're doing everything we can to make sure this man is treated fairly."
The Boundary County commissioners on Monday said they are standing beside Hill on the charge, saying in a statement that Hill had "not only the right, but the obligation to protect his children and his family."
The commissioners said they'll be seeking help from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho's congressional delegation to get the charge dismissed.
The charge of killing a threatened species is punishable by up to a year in prison, a maximum fine of $50,000, and up to one year of supervised release.