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Man Convicted of Killing Cows

October 22, 1997

CANYON CITY, Ore. (AP) _ A man was convicted Wednesday of killing 11 of his neighbor’s cows that had strayed onto his property, losing a case he had hoped would expose the folly of the West’s ``open range″ law.

Dr. Richard Shipsey, 44, was found guilty of criminal mischief and unauthorized use of livestock after a 30-minute, non-jury trial.

Shipsey said he looked forward to challenging the constitutionality of Oregon’s open range law when he appeals his conviction.

The law, which also holds sway in Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and parts of Texas, allows ranchers to hold others liable for the welfare of their cattle no matter where the animals roam. Shipsey had called the open range law ludicrous, and accused his neighbor of abusing it for 30 to 40 years.

Shipsey and the owner of the dead cattle, Bob Sproul, had argued for years over cattle getting through Shipsey’s fences and feeding along a creek bottom he had worked hard to restore after years of overgrazing.

Shipsey dropped the cows with a rifle after the animals broke through a fence.

The charges carry a total of more than 55 years in prison. Prosecutor Patrick Flaherty said Shipsey would probably get no more than 10 days in jail and two years’ probation, plus community service and payment of restitution. Sentencing will take place within the next two months.

Shipsey gave up hope of a jury trial after the judge severely limited the defense.

Judge Jarry Reynolds ruled that the defense could not offer evidence that Sproul was well-known for allowing cattle to graze where they shouldn’t, or cross-examine Sproul about his grazing practices.

``It’s like putting Mike Tyson in the ring, tying his hands behind his back, and expecting him to win,″ said defense attorney Foster Glass. ``All we can do is get up and say he shot the cows.″

Shipsey became an outcast in Grant County after admitting he shot the cattle. Because people shunned his medical practice, he had to sell the land where the cattle strayed.

He said he is closing his medical practice at the end of the week and moving his family to Baker City.

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