A suspect has been arrested for the killing of a captive, domestic, trophy, 12-point buck from a Lake Butler game farm Sept. 6.
Dustin Cole Jernigan (DOB 7/26/87) of Haines City turned himself in to the Alachua County Sheriff's Office Sept. 29.
Investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Union County Sheriff's Office had obtained an arrest warrant for Jernigan Sept. 24 for four felony charges for killing the captive, pen-raised, white-tailed deer. Charges included armed trespass, two counts of cutting a fence containing livestock and theft of livestock.
The investigation revealed that the suspect trespassed onto Shadd's Game Farm, an FWC-licensed private facility, on State Road 100, west of Lake Butler.
Peabody, a stud deer with an extensive lineage, was killed, and the animal's head and cape were removed.
"The antlers are unique because of a drop tine behind each ear. The deer was tagged with a pinkish tag in the left ear with the #23 on it," said FWC lead investigator David Lee. "We sent out flyers to taxidermists around the state, asking them to call us if this deer was brought into their shop."
The owner of the trophy buck, John Shadd, offered a reward of $20,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprit(s).
"We also requested the public's help and asked anyone with information to call and tell us what they knew," Lee said.
After sorting through many calls and tips, investigators discovered that Jernigan gave the deer head to a friend who took it to a taxidermist in Haines City. The antlers and cape were seized as evidence at the business Sept. 17 by FWC investigators.
"There was a small-caliber bullet hole in the deer's neck, and I took two samples for DNA comparison from the cape," Lee said.
The DNA test results are pending.
Interviews, sworn statements from witnesses and physical evidence supported probable cause for an arrest warrant issued Sept. 24. Attempts to communicate with Jernigan weren't successful, but messages relayed to him resulted in the suspect turning himself in at the Alachua County Jail Sept. 29 to answer the charges.
"While Jernigan is accused of killing the deer, the investigation is ongoing and may result in other subjects being charged in this case as well," Lee said.
"This case was certainly furthered by the livestock owner offering a substantial reward, but it wouldn't have come together so quickly and successfully if not for the excellent investigative work and communication between FWC investigators throughout the state and the Union County Sheriff's Office," said Capt. Marty Redmond, FWC investigations supervisor for the North Central Region.
The two agencies worked together because the case involved both a property crime and a captive wildlife crime.
Shadd, the owner of the deer, will make the determination as to who will receive the reward upon the disposition of the case in court, according to Lee.