BOULDER — A 44-year-old Erie man who loves turtles and toads did not know he was breaking the law by keeping so many at his house, his attorney told jurors Monday.
“They love herpetiles. They have them in their home,” attorney Robert Simpson said of his client, Richard Vandermeer, and his family.
Herpetiles include reptiles and amphibians.
Vandermeer, 44, is standing trial this week on charges of illegal possession of wildlife and possession of a controlled substance.
The jury trial, which is in Judge Carol Glowinsky’s courtroom, may end today.
Vandermeer and his wife both majored in biology at the University of Colorado, Simpson said.
When Vandermeer learned he could keep only four ornate box turtles — instead of the five he had — he and his wife agreed they would return one to the Roggen area, in eastern Weld County, Simpson said.
As for the 19 Woodhouse’s toads in the house, Simpson said 15 of the toads were in Vandermeer’s son’s bedroom and four were in the window well.
“These 19 toads came from his yard,” Simpson said, adding that Vandermeer was trying to save them from the bloody fate that could be inflicted by the lawnmower.
Prosecutor Phil Davis explained to jurors how wildlife officials discovered the illegal animals in the Vandermeer home.
When a Department of Wildlife officer confronted Vandermeer in Roggen on Aug. 2, Vandermeer readily admitted having an illegal number of ornate box turtles, Davis said.
The next day, wildlife officers flagged down Vandermeer as he was driving away from his house, Davis said.
He was so anxious to beat the officers back to his house, Davis said, he drove in reverse at a speed of 25 mph for about two blocks, even though his son was in the pickup truck.
During the search, officers found in the truck’s console a pen casing containing cocaine residue, Davis said.
While Simpson tried to explain during his opening argument how his client came to possess the turtles and the toads, he said Vandermeer has no idea how the pen ended up in his pickup truck.
Vandermeer works in construction, his truck is open at job sites and many people drive it, Simpson said.
Victoria Camron can be reached at 303-684-5226, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.