Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Nightmare in the Old West

By Alan Burkhart

UPDATE: My friend Kent Knudson has passed away. Out of respect for his family and friends I will not include details here. He was a good guy and a good friend.

If you’re a regular reader of my column, you may be familiar with the ongoing plight of my good friend, Kent Knudson. There are new developments in the case and I hope you’ll take a moment to read about them. Kent is slowly gaining support in his fight, and that support is coming from both sides of the political fence.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, here’s the short version: When the incident occurred, Kent lived in Snowflake, Arizona. Until she passed away recently, he had cared for his elderly mother, who was an Alzheimer’s patient.

In 2003, Mrs. Knudson suffered a stroke and Kent had to rush her to the hospital. In his haste, he left the gate to his property open. When he returned several days later, approximately 40 head of cattle belonging to rancher Dee Johnson had entered his property. His lawn and garden were destroyed and a sewer line had been broken. After numerous calls to the rancher and unsuccessful attempts at getting the cattle to leave, Kent fired a .22 caliber rifle in the air to frighten them out of his yard.

Whether the bullet ricocheted and hit the cow is unknown, but one of the cows fell over dead in his yard. I personally find it highly unlikely that an animal weighing half a ton could be killed by a random shot from such a small firearm. Nevertheless, the cow was quite dead.

Arizona is a free range state, meaning that cattle may roam freely in and out of their owner’s property. Fences are not required. Hit a cow with your car? You’re liable for the cost of the cow. I’ve come close on a couple of occasions to smashing into a cow on a dark Arizona road. If I should die in such a crash, my estate would be liable for the price of the cow. The ranchers in Arizona have very little responsibility in this regard. And the Powers That Be in Arizona plan to make an example out of Kent Knudson.

Recent Events…
After spending over $40,000 on legal defense, Kent was convicted a few days ago. His sentencing is scheduled for September Twenty-Fifth. For defending his property, Kent could face up to one and half years in a state prison. It’s worth noting here that due to existing fences between his property and that of rancher Dee Johnson, it would be impossible for the cows to reach his gate without a fence being cut or knocked down. And according to Kent, the ballistics test of the bullet in the cow didn’t match his gun. Kent also has bigger guns than the .22. Had he sincerely wished to kill the cow, he had multiple options for weapons.

In court, an obviously biased judged tossed out almost all of the evidence that could have worked in Kent’s favor. No mention of the cut fence on an adjacent property (that allowed the cattle to reach Kent’s property) was permitted. The fact that Kent made repeated attempts to get the owner of the cattle to come and collect them was deemed insignificant.

I’m not an attorney, but my guess is that his only chance of beating this insanity will be during the appeals process. As long as this biased judge holds sway over the proceedings, he has no chance. This is a classic example of how well-connected people with power and wealth can adversely affect the lives of others.

Kent and I disagree on almost everything political, but he is a good and decent human being and is undeserving of the misery being visited upon him. This sort of thing can happen to anyone, including you or me. And it’ll keep happening until people stand up and demand change. Our property rights are fundamental to our freedom as Americans. There are too many instances in which those rights are trampled – either by unscrupulous developers, or as in Kent’s case, by an irresponsible rancher, outdated laws, and a corrupt judge.

Related Reading:

When merited, Kent sends out a mailing regarding his case. His most recent one is included below, with his permission. - Alan

A Nightmare Continues!
I am now a FELON because I attempted to protect my mother, a victim of Alzheimer's, from a herd of wild cattle (including bulls) on our own private FENCED property near Snowflake, AZ. The rancher refused to remove them, so I tried to scare the 30-40 cattle back through our gate with the noise from a .22 rifle and in the process one was killed. It must have been a ricochet since I know that I did not try to hit one.

Only later did I discover that the cattle had gotten to our gate because someone had cut our neighbor’s fence (and removed 40’ of 4 strand barbed wire). Our property is completely surrounded by fenced private property so, no cattle could possibly get to our open gate unless they were delivered through a cut fence! Some ranchers believe their cattle have a right to any grass or water (fenced or not). Did you know that ranchers can kill your pet dog? All they have to say is that it was bothering their cattle! (for other ranching abuses go to

I have spent $40,000 in legal fees and when we attempted to settle, the only response from the prosecution was ........
"we don't want to settle, we want to make an example of you."

Early on in the proceedings, the judge stated “this is a
simple case and it will remain a simple case
” as if he had already tried and convicted me! The judge was enraged at me once when I stated that I was the victim; in AZ, ranchers are always the victim!

The rancher (Dee Johnson), has 60 FELONIES against him for CATTLE RUSTLING. He is a cousin to both Jake Flake and Jeff Flake, in the AZ Legislature and US Congress respectively. Is it possible that politics has something to do with

The first trial, in Dec., was declared a mistrial (the judge attempted to pick the jury without any input from the lawyers ....... BTW, this delay cost me another $8,000 in legal fees). Another trial took place Aug. 23-24. The judge denied all our defenses and my lawyers were powerless to prevent this. It was stated that AZ is an open range state, but that no details about open range law would be allowed into the trial. All the prosecution lies were accepted, no matter how blatant, and very little was done to refute even the obvious ones.

The day that I buried mother, the court was trying to issue her a Subpoena!

** Contact info removed now that Kent has passed away. **

A trial transcript will be posted soon!


Anonymous said...

I live in rural Steamboat Springs, CO, which has the same antiquated laws...fence cattle out, fence sheep in.

I do not understand why any businesman would let an asset wander free on a neighbor's property. He wouldn't park his car in your garage, why on earth would he let as asset valued at $1000 or more wander on your property?

I know that it is convenient to have a stranger bear the burden some of the costs of YOUR business, but it is unfair to the neighbor. I cannot pass any of the costs of my business to my neighbor. Cows are not sacred. The ranching business is a business like any other. Bear the costs like any other businessman. If you cannot, just quit business. It is done every day.

Donald Kotowski

Alan said...

Thanks Donald. I could not have said it better.

Rafting Bear said...

Have you gotten an update on Kent's sentence?

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to say that were not all bad. Were not all convicted cattle rustling kin of politicians. Most of us are quite reasonable people and work as much as we can to keep our cattle in their place.

We as businessmen do not simply let our cattle wander free. We don't stand and watch as they trespass on our neighbors. Many times cattle graze and migrate throughout the night. When it happens we take the necessary steps to return the cattle to our land and make sure they don't tresspass further.

I think the worst thing you can do is to shoot the animals. If, for instance, you did find someone's car in your garage; you wouldn't destroy it would you? I presume not. You'd call local law enforcement and have it removed. Then the cost and liability to retrieve the car would fall on the owner. The car in your garage doesn't threaten your life and neither does a cow in your yard. Cows are not sacred, but their predatory creatures either. In your home you are more than safe from any danger a cow may pose to your life.

It is not convenient at all to have neighbors bear burden. They don't bear burden. They're simply asked to fence their property to keep the cattle out. Just as they have windows and doors on their homes and cars to keep things out and their property from being damaged. A cow is a dumb animal, they can't read signs or comprehend property lines. They are stopped by fences and closed gates. If the fence is up the gate is closed, the cows come through, owner of said cow is responsible for damages to fence, gate, and property.

Just as ranching is a business like any other business, land is property like any other property. Keep unwanted things out just like any other thing; put up walls to keep out the elements, fences and walls to keep out people and animals, close your gates, doors, and windows. If you cannot ; your property gets damaged. It happens everyday.

Anonymous said...

Research 3 dead cows killed in the summer of 2009 outside a community in Gold Canyon called Peralta Trails. The owner of the Cows is Dee Johnson as Lt. Doug Brown of Pinal County Sheriff office states. Pinal County Sheriff claims the cows died of natural causes. Now I have a clue why they are covering this up!!!!