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Bear poacher from Smithfield receives 5-year hunting ban

| Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Smithfield man who poached a bear can't hunt in Pennsylvania for the next five years.

Joseph John Swaney, 39, also was ordered to serve a year on probation for his conviction this month.

Fayette County Senior Judge Gerald Solomon sentenced Swaney on Wednesday after he apologized.

“I made a mistake in what I did,” Swaney told Solomon. “I regret it.”

Swaney was found guilty of unlawful killing and taking of a black bear following a one-day trial Oct. 7.

Pennsylvania Game Commission officials believe Swaney's poaching conviction to be the first in the state by a jury trial.

He was ordered to pay $1,500 in restitution to the game commission in accordance with a provision in state law that places monetary value on wildlife involved in a violation.

The provision ranges in restitution from $300 for the illegal possession or killing of a beaver or turkey to $5,000 for a threatened or endangered bird or mammal and certain sizes of black bear, elk and deer.

Swaney killed the black bear on the afternoon of Sept. 7, 2012, when it wandered into his backyard garden, according to court documents. A tipster reported the killing to the game commission, and Swaney was questioned the following week.

Wildlife Conservation Officer Brandon C. Bonin reported in court documents that when he searched Swaney's backyard, he found hair and paws from a black bear. The bear's head was found in a nearby stream, and the animal's carcass was recovered from a freezer owned by a friend of Swaney's, Bonin said.

The game commission had not received any complaints about a bear in the area before the killing. Swaney confessed, according to court records, and went to trial after rejecting a plea offer.

During a search of Swaney's property, Bonin found two marijuana plants in a plastic container. A marijuana possession charge was dropped in district court as part of a tentative plea offer. Jurors were not told about the plants, which were tested by a police crime lab and confirmed to be marijuana.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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