Man Accused of Texting About His 'Killing Spree' of Bald Eagles and Other Birds Intends to Plead Guilty: Docs

Travis Branson will plead guilty to helping kill and sell roughly 3,600 rare birds over a six-year period, according to federal court filings.

<p>Getty</p> Bald eagle


Bald eagle

One of the two men accused of shooting and killing roughly 3,600 rare birds, including bald and golden eagles, has agreed to plead guilty while the other suspect remains at large, according to new federal court filings in Montana.

Travis John Branson has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of unlawfully trafficking bald and golden eagles, as well as one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that bans the trafficking of wildlife illegally removed from nature, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Prosecutors will drop 10 counts of unlawful trafficking in exchange for Branson, 48, to plead guilty to the other charges, according to two filings from this week, which were reviewed by PEOPLE.

It’s unclear how many birds the Cusick, Wash., man will admit to killing.

“The defendant knowingly took, possessed, sold, bartered, offered to sell, and transported a bald or golden eagle and…the defendant did so without being permitted to do so,” Branson’s attorney acknowledges in the new filing. The filing also says that Branson “knew” what he was doing was illegal.

Meanwhile, his alleged accomplice is still on the run.

Related: 2 Men Accused of Killing 3,600 Bald Eagles and Other Rare Birds in 'Spree'

Authorities are searching for 42-year-old Simon Paul, who prosecutors allege was Branson’s partner.

The two men were indicted in December and accused of killing roughly 3,600 birds within the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana between January 2015 and March 2021.

Prosecutors allege that Branson and Paul would hunt birds by luring them in with deer and other prey they had also killed, waiting for the birds to swoop in before shooting them. They would then sell feathers and other parts of the birds on the black market, according to their indictment.

Certain sets of golden eagle feathers can sell for several hundred dollars, The Associated Press reported. The outlet reports that feathers and other parts of eagles' bodies are valued among some Native American tribes for use in ceremonies and powwows.

The outlet also reports that prosecutors believe Branson and Paul worked with others, who have not yet been identified by authorities.

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In their December filing, prosecutors previously presented a handful of text messages sent back-and-forth between Branson and Paul, which allegedly showed them discussing their crimes.

At times, the messages appear to show the men bragging about the alleged crimes, with Branson texting Paul to say he was on a "killing spree."

The texts, presented in the prosecutors’ Montana federal court filing in December, allegedly showed how the two men planned their killings, how they contacted buyers for different parts of the birds, and how they coordinated with each other.

In one particularly damning message, Branson allegedly wrote to Paul that he was “[o]ut [here] committing felonies.”

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