Christian Gutierrez, 19, has been sentenced to 45 days in jail and must perform 200 hours of community service and pay $1,000 in restitution for his part in the killing of Laysan albatrosses at Kaena Point.
Environmental court Judge Jeannette Castagnetti rejected Gutierrezʻs request for a deferred acceptance of his “no contest” plea, which would have allowed him to emerge with a clean record after meeting requirements set by the judge.
Gutierrez was facing a possible year in prison and maximum $7,000 in fines when he was sentenced by Castagnetti on Thursday in a packed courtroom. A stuffed albatross sat on the prosecution table.
Castagnetti called the crime “shocking” and “inexcusable.”
She told Gutierrez, “Your action was purposeful and cruel. There are no grounds to justify your behavior.”
He was taken directly from the court to Oahu Community Correctional Center to begin serving his sentence.
As he was handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom, Gutierrez said to his parents, “I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad. I’m sorry.”
Before the judge announced his sentence, Gutierrez had apologized to the court, and to the people responsible for managing the albatross colony at Kaena Point.
Gutierrez said, “People have every right to be angry and disgusted with my behavior. I’m disgusted with my behavior, too. I wish I had the courage not to go along, but I didn’t. I’ll have the memory of that forever.”
Gutierrezʻs father, Frank Gutierrez, a retired firefighter also spoke, pleading for probation for his son.
“Incarceration is not the answer,” he said. “He is only 5ʻ5” and weighs 125 pounds. It would be a grave mistake to put him in with hardened criminals.”
He said his son did everything the prosecution expected of him. But on the night of the crime: “Unfortunately, he did not have the courage to stop his friends.”
On March 16, Gutierrez pleaded no contest to five criminal misdemeanor counts, including theft, criminal property damage and animal cruelty. That was a reduction from the 19 offenses he originally faced, which included felony theft and 15 counts of animal cruelty.
Two other people were prosecuted for the albatross killings, but their cases were handled earlier and confidentially in Family Court because they were 17 when the crimes occurred Dec. 27-28, 2015.
They have been identified in court documents as Carter Mesker and Raymond Justice.
Gutierrez is a Punahou School graduate currently attending New York University, where he is studying to be a filmmaker. He was camping at Kaena Point near the wildlife refuge on the night of the crime with friends he had known at Punahou. None of them attends the school now.
The three were prosecuted for killing at least 15 Laysan albatrosses that night and in the early morning hours with a bat, a machete and a pellet gun, as well as smashing the bird’s eggs, destroying 17 nests and cutting off albatrosses’ feet to remove their identification tags.
Investigators’ reports say they tied up some of the albatrosses and tossed them in the ocean and stole $3,400 worth of bird monitoring cameras they mistakenly thought was security equipment that might identify them.
In court Thursday, Gutierrez’s attorney, Myles Breiner, portrayed Gutierrez as a follower, not the “architect of the of the crime.”
He said he killed only two of the birds and did not cut off their legs or tie them up.
Breiner said Gutierrez participated in the crime because “he wanted to fit in with these kids. Kids he looked up to even though they were a few months younger than him.”
In arguing for deferral instead of jail time, Breiner said that Gutierrez is remorseful and has taken full responsibility for the crime. He said Gutierrez had sought mental health treatment and his psychologist said he was unlikely to offend again.
Breiner said afterward he was disappointed that the judge rejected a deferred acceptance of Gutierrez’s no contest plea. That would have allowed all five criminal misdemeanor counts to be expunged from his record. And Breiner said he was also disappointed that Gutierrez had to go to jail.
Breiner was unsuccessful in persuading the judge to let Gutierrez go home with his parents and surrender himself to OCCC Friday to begin serving his jail sentence.
Deputy Prosecutor Janice Futa said that, overall, it was a just sentence.
“The most important thing was (rejecting) the deferral,” Futa said. “This will stay with him as a reminder of what he did.”
Futa had asked for Gutierrez to be sentenced to a year in prison, saying he was the oldest person at Kaena Point the night of the albatross attack.
“He never said, ‘I am leaving.’ No, he continued on through the rampage, which took place over a large area. He was a willing participant.”
After the sentencing, Lindsay Young, the executive director of the nonprofit Pacific Rim Conservation that manages the Kaena Point albatross colony, said in an emailed statement, “While we are relieved to be closing this painful chapter and feel that justice has been served for our wildlife, we also recognize that any time a young person is sent to jail is a sad day.”
Earlier in court, Young urged the judge to impose the maxim sentence allowable by law on Gutierrez, saying, “He has no conscience.”
“He participated with the full knowledge of what he was doing and did not stop,” she said.
“He turned my favorite place in the world into a crime scene,” Young said.
Suzanne Case, chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, also urged harsh punishment for Gutierrez. DLNR is the state agency responsible for the wildlife refuge.
She praised Castagnetti for taking the albatross killings seriously “to send a strong message to the community that there is no tolerance for abuse, destruction or killing of Hawaiiʻs wildlife.”
“The fact that this man will serve jail time and community service recognizes the severity of those killings and the impact it will have for years on the albatross breeding colony at Kaena Point,” Case said.
After serving his jail sentence in Honolulu, Gutierrez will ask for permission to serve his probation in New York City when he returns to NYU in the fall.