Saturday, Nov 22, 2014
Local News

Status hearing date set for woman accused of feeding bears


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SEBRING - The paperwork for a hearing to determine if a Sebring woman accused of feeding wild bears violated her probation was filed Monday.

The Sebring attorney for Mary Musselman, William Fletcher, officially entered the forms during a violation of probation arraignment stating Musselman did not disregard the terms of her probation stemming from two counts of feeding black bears, according to a probable cause affidavit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Florida law prohibits feeding bears because once they lose their fear of humans they become a threat and must be euthanized.

A hearing was set for March 31 in the Highlands County court to update the status of the case and look into setting a trial date or to see if a settlement could be reached instead.

Musselman pleaded guilty to both counts Jan. 24, according to Fletcher. She was not present in court Monday.

The pretrial terms were outlined in Fletcher's motion to modify pretrial release, where the state stipulated she stay out of her Kenilworth Avenue home and live in a Lakeview Drive apartment or with her brother in Illinois.

Musselman, 81, was accused in fall 2013 for illegally feeding black bears, foxes and raccoons and was arrested again Jan. 29 for feeding wild animals and accused of violation of probation and threatening to kill an officer Jan. 11.

On Jan. 19, she was again charged with assaulting an officer, according to probable cause affidavits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court, Highlands County.

Gary Ellis, assistant state attorney for the Tenth Judicial Court, said between today and March 31, his office with State Attorney Jerry Hill would offer Fletcher settlements in "negotiations which protects people and bears and wildlife." In cooperation with the Highlands County Probation Department, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Steve Houchin, chief assistant state attorney for Highlands and Hardee counties, the offer would help protect the people, bears and other wildlife, he said.

"How we'll fashion that, I don't know yet; it depends on what examinations on her reveal," he said. "My big concern is the safety of the public. We have an individual here feeding the bears, endangering the people of Highlands County and the state of Florida."

Highlands County Judge Anthony Ritenour issued a ruling Feb. 7 that Musselman could be released on $7,000 bail.

As part of the release, Musselman had to allow the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Highlands County Sheriff's Office to make two unannounced visits a week to her home and search the property.

Fletcher, who didn't attend Monday's arraignment, said he is currently in the process of following court orders to have his client psychologically evaluated.

He said filing "not guilty" pleas in case of probation violations were standard.

"We're just seeing where we currently stand," he said. "Concerning the violation of probation, I hope to show she didn't intentionally violate her terms in any court orders."

After her release on bail, Musselman was required to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist and "follow through with any recommended treatment, including the taking of all prescribed medicines," the order states. "Any and all reports by the physician are to be forwarded to the court for review," it adds.

pcatala@highlandstoday.com

(863) 386-5855

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