Saturday, May 17, 2003

Illinois: Robert Chissus gets probation after breaking into wildlife refuge, stealing an eagle and hawk. The nearly-blind eagle was found, abandoned, the next day but the hawk has never been found

ILLINOIS -- A judge sentenced a Wonder Lake man Friday to 30 months of probation and fined him more than $3,000 for breaking into a wildlife refuge last year and stealing a bald eagle and a Cooper's hawk.

Robert L. Chissus, 32, admitted stealing the birds from the McHenry County Conservation District's Wildlife Resource Center on Jan. 11, 2002, with help from an 11-year-old boy. He pleaded guilty to burglary, criminal damage to government property, theft and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The Cooper's hawk, which had been recovering from an injury, has not been found. Hunters recovered the eagle, which has cataracts, is nearly blind and couldn't possibly survive on its own, in a field the day after the burglary.

Why would you give him probation??? I'd tell him, cough up the hawk and I'll give you probation. Otherwise, you'll be cooling your heels in a jail cell!

McHenry Circuit Judge Ward Arnold banned Chissus from drinking alcoholic beverages while on probation. A parole officer will monitor Chissus, who will be subject to random urine and blood tests.

"Within 10 minutes after I met you, I knew your main problem was alcohol," Arnold told Chissus. "Your prior criminal history largely is the result of that."

Chissus has a 1998 conviction on a drunken-driving charge in Florida and a 1988 burglary conviction in McHenry County that involved alcohol, said his lawyer, Christopher Harmon.

Chissus was out on bail after being charged with stealing the birds, but he violated conditions of his bail by drinking, authorities said. Bail was revoked May 2.


Chissus' mother, Adrienne, said Thursday that her son was just investigating strange noises in the pen at the wildlife center, which borders her property, the night of Jan. 11, when he fell through the wire roof.

Worried the rare birds would injure themselves trying to escape, her son brought them to their home and tried to feed them, she said.

"He felt responsible," she said. "They were better off out of their cages."

The hawk flew off, and the bald eagle flew into a tree, she said.

She scoffed at the suggestion that Chissus intentionally stole the rare birds.

"What are you going to do with a bald eagle?" she said.

James McAuliff, chief of the criminal division of the McHenry County state's attorney's office, would not say what Chissus' motive might have been, but noted there is a black market for rare and endangered species.

"He was not going to release them into the wild," McAuliff said.

Bald eagles are listed as threatened on the federal endangered species list. Cooper's hawks are protected under federal laws regarding migratory birds.

(Chicago Tribune -May 17, 2003)