FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A North Pole man frustrated by frequent intrusions onto private property in his rural neighborhood had the right to investigate when he heard gunshots in the area last August, but went too far when he pointed a rifle at a 12-year-old girl on his neighbor's land, a Superior Court judge said.
David Stewart, 34, was sentenced Tuesday to three months in jail for a third-degree assault conviction stemming from the incident Aug. 7.
Judge Charles Pengilly heard arguments that he said had him weigh the concerns of property owners tired of trespassers and the seriousness of Stewart's actions.
He was charged with pointing a gun at the girl who was part of a hunting party. The group was hunting under a pilot program allowing children to shoot moose when accompanied by an adult.
In a letter to the court, the girl wrote that she left the group to go back to the truck and take a nap when she encountered Stewart.
Assistant District Attorney Corinne Vorenkamp said during the sentencing hearing that Stewart was slashing a tire on the truck when the girl approached. He was initially charged with criminal mischief, but that charge was dropped in exchange for a plea of no contest to the third-degree assault charge.
Before announcing the sentence, Pengilly said he could sympathize both with the fear that the girl experienced and two of Stewart's neighbors, who testified that there have been frequent instances of people illegally hunting on their property and that it was considered common courtesy in the neighborhood to investigate anything out of the ordinary.
''This is an awful tough type of case because there are some pretty strong interests and some sympathetic concerns on both sides,'' Pengilly said.
The neighbors who testified told of people snowmachining on their property late at night, finding illegally killed moose and several other problems.
No trespassing signs are posted throughout the neighborhood, they said, but people seem to ignore them.
Jennifer Hite, Stewart's public defender, said her client's actions were not justified, but were motivated mainly by his concern that a moose had been killed before hunting season.
She said Stewart, like many in the Interior, was not aware of the youth hunting program and he initially called Alaska State Troopers to report hearing gunshots.
''What Mr. Stewart did next was in no way appropriate, but he didn't want those people to get away with shooting a moose illegally,'' Hite said.
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