BOULDER — An Erie man who collects turtles and toads was acquitted Tuesday of illegally possessing wildlife and cocaine.
Jurors deliberated for about 90 minutes before deciding Richard Vandermeer, 44, of Erie was not guilty on charges he faced.
“We know the jurors returned the correct verdict,” said defense attorney Robert Simpson. “We’re very pleased.”
A state Division of Wildlife officer found Vandermeer and his 8-year-old son hunting for turtles in eastern Weld County last August. The next day, DOW officials and Erie police searched Vandermeer’s house, finding the wildlife and the pen casing, prosecutors said.
The key to the acquittals, Simpson said, was the state’s inability to link Vandermeer with a pen casing that contained cocaine residue.
When Boulder County District Judge Carol Glowinsky read the first “not guilty” verdict, on the controlled substance charge, Vandermeer quietly lowered his head. After he learned he was acquitted of all charges, he patted his attorney on the back and grinned.
As the jurors filed out of the courtroom, Vandermeer waved and called out, “Thank you!”
“This is just a family that loved turtles and toads,” Simpson said.
Colorado law says one person cannot have more than four ornate box turtles and four Woodhouse’s toads. Simpson argued his client did not know having five turtles and 19 frogs — four of which were in the window well — was more than the law allows.
“I didn’t know it before I got involved in this case,” Simpson said.
After the verdict was returned, Vandermeer and one of the wildlife officers who investigated him argued briefly until Simpson intervened. Vandermeer later cursed the wildlife officers’ actions and accused them of planting the cocaine.
Prosecutor Phil Davis would not comment after the verdict.
Victoria Camron can be reached at 303-684-5226, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.