ESCANABA - The trial begins today for three Garden Peninsula men accused of conspiring to buy/sell fish taken without a commercial license in 2009. A jury was selected Tuesday in Delta County District Court.
The defendants include Troy and Wade Jensen, brothers and tribal-licensed commercial fishermen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The co-defendant is John Elmer Halverson, a non-native from Garden.
The three allegedly bought fish illegally caught by Andrew, John and Kevin Schwartz, brothers and tribal members from Rapid River, and sold the fish to Bay de Noc Fisheries, a state-licensed wholesaler on the Garden Peninsula. The Schwartzes were tried and sentenced in tribal court last year on civil infractions related to the case.
The Jensens and Halverson are being prosecuted by the state because they are charged in violation of a Michigan misdemeanor. The count carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail.
Today's trial begins with opening statements from Delta County Prosecutor Steve Parks. The jury will then hear opening statements from the defense. Marquette attorney Karl Numinen represents the Jensen brothers. Menominee attorney Elizabeth Lacosse represents Halverson.
Following opening statements, the prosecution will call witnesses to the stand and present exhibits as evidence in the case. The three Schwartz brothers are expected to be the first witnesses to present sworn testimony today, said District Court Judge Glenn Pearson.
The defense may present witnesses or evidence but it is not required, the judge told jurors Tuesday, explaining it is up to the prosecution to prove the defendants are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Pearson also informed the jurors they have the right to believe witness testimony but statements or questions from the lawyers are not considered evidence.
Most of Tuesday's time in court was used for jury selection. Nineteen prospective jurors were called to the stand with the final jury consisting of three women and four men, including an alternate.
Prior to today's opening statements, Pearson will present the jurors with rules of the law the three defendants are alleged to have violated. The issue was discussed Tuesday in court in the jury's absence.
The Schwartzes, Jensens and Halverson were all arrested by the Department of Natural Resources following an investigation into an illegal fishing operation on Little Bay de Noc in February 2009.
Following a trial in tribal court, the Schwartzes were sentenced on 79 fishing violations last summer.
In a recent appeals case, some of the tribal court rulings were reversed or modified including a revocation of the Schwartzes' tribal right to subsistence fish that was reduced to a one-year sentence. Subsistence fishing - 100 pounds of fish a day - is for personal or family consumption only, according to the tribe.
The Schwartzes have been granted immunity from federal and state prosecution when they testify in today's trial.
Today's proceedings will take place in the probate court courtroom, which is larger than the district courtroom.
Tuesday's jury selection was held in the circuit courtroom.