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Prosecutors Wrestle Unsuccessfully With a Bear of a Misdemeanor Case

Posted Nov 4, 2009 2:25 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Was it a bear den, or wasn't it a bear den? That was a central question in an unusual trial of a mentally ill man, who won an acquittal this week in a misdemeanor zoo trespassing case.

Although, in fact, Kenneth Herron did enter the San Francisco Zoo's grizzly grotto at closing time on Sept. 26, his lawyer, deputy public defender James Conger, argued that he hadn't realized it was a bear den, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Jurors trying to decide whether to convict the 21-year-old on a misdemeanor charge of disturbing dangerous animals—the grotto's two 500-pound female grizzlies—also apparently found convincing the defense lawyer's argument that the bears weren't actually disturbed, rendering a not guilty verdict yesterday for Herron, the newspaper recounts.

One bear sniffed at Herron's shoe before fleeing when a zoo official fired a warning shot, but neither showed any other clear signs of alarm, according to the Chronicle.

Similarly, Superior Court Judge Wallace Douglass ruled on Monday that a trespassing charge against Herron could not proceed because the prosecution couldn't prove that he intended to "occupy" the grizzly grotto.

"The unusual facts, mental health issues and vague statutory terms made for a difficult case," a district attorney's office spokesman tells the newspaper.

Conger said the criminal justice system wasn't the proper forum for dealing with his client's case.

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