WASHINGTON — A Knox County man faces up to five years in prison after authorities claim he illegally hunted a deer, causing the animal to suffer extreme pain.

Ronald Mole, 57, of Washington is charged with felony aggravated cruelty to animals, night hunting, illegally baiting deer, and discharging a firearm near a dwelling.

Mole’s attorney said he is amazed that his client has been charged and warned that this could begin an erosion of hunting rights in the state.

The offenses allegedly occurred Nov. 6 and Nov. 7 on the Old Union Road in Washington, according to paperwork filed in Knox County Unified Court by Game Warden Joey Lefebvre of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The animal was shot while Mole was illegally night hunting, according to investigators. The deer was left to suffer during the night until Mole returned the following morning, the state claims.

The cruelty charge alleges that Mole acted in a way that “manifested a depraved indifference to animal life or suffering, did intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause extreme physical pain to an animal, cause the death of an animal, or physically torture an animal.”

Attorney Christopher MacLean of Camden filed not guilty pleas on Mole’s behalf and said Mole denies all of the allegations.

“I am not aware of any other similar case,” MacLean said Tuesday in an email statement. “In a state with such a proud hunting tradition, it absolutely amazes me to see a felony prosecution for animal cruelty in a case where the deer was lawfully shot and properly tagged by a licensed Maine hunter. Cases like this slowly erode hunting rights in the state; I fear the next step will be to restrict gun ownership itself by those who have no understanding of Maine’s hunting tradition.”

Generally, animal cruelty cases involve abuse to pets.

District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said Tuesday that he is not aware of a previous case in which a deer has been the animal involved in a cruelty case but said there may have been others.

He said the theory of prosecution for this case, however, is that there is a far greater chance of a deer suffering if being hunted illegally at night when a clean shot is less likely and when the deer cannot be tracked as easily.

The summons alleges the hunting occurred at 8 p.m. on Nov. 6. Sunset was at 4:19 p.m.

Cpl. John MacDonald, spokesman for the Maine Warden Service, was at training on Tuesday. Lefebvre was not available for comment Tuesday on the case.

Hunting is prohibited from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise.

Firing a gun within 100 yards of a residential dwelling is illegal in Maine without the permission of the property owner.

Mole’s next court date is April 10.

Rushlau was involved in a case in 2013 in which the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals asked the district attorney to file animal cruelty charges in connection to the processing of lobsters at the Linda Bean plant in Rockland. The prosecutor declined to file charges, saying his research showed that the state’s animal cruelty laws never were intended to cover invertebrate species – animals without backbones.

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