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Judge: Sparta, N.J. Man Had No Legal Right To Kill 3 Bears On Property

SPARTA, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A New Jersey man who said he shot three bears on his property to defend himself and his wife has been convicted of illegally killing them.

Robert Ehling, 78, of Sparta, was also found guilty Thursday of a weapons offense. Municipal Court Judge James Devine, who said Ehling committed ``acts of a vigilante,'' also ordered him to pay more than $4,000 in penalties, the New Jersey Herald reported.

The judge said there was no indication that even a game warden or police officer would have had the right to shoot the bears. Devine said Ehling ``became the aggressor'' when he opened fire on the bears – one adult and two cubs – on his back deck in 2014.

``There was no provocation,'' Devine said. ``He wasn't being threatened by these bears.''

Speaking to CBS2 last fall, Ehling said he was defending his wife inside their Sparta home when he shot and killed the bears a year earlier.

It was an early morning when he heard his wife scream from their kitchen. A 300-pound bear on their back deck was trying to get inside the home to reach a bag of birdseed.

Ehling grabbed his shotgun and went outside to scare the bear away.

"It stood up and looked at me, and it got a little distracted. It turned its head, and I shot it," he said.

Ehling said the bear fell over the railing. When he went to take a look, he saw a second bear climbing up to the deck and he fired again.

Then he heard the third bear.

"It was part a growl and part a roar and part a cry – raawrr!" Ehling said.

Once again, he raised his shotgun.

"I hit it right in the head -- down it went, and that was it," he said.

Ehling said New Jersey state Fish and Wildlife officials came to investigate, and he was later issued four summonses for hunting out of season and hunting near a residential home.

But Ehling said he would fight the tickets, and in December took the stand in his own defense.

Ehling claimed in court that he killed the adult bear because he was afraid and then fatally shot the first cub because his bifocals made it feel as if it was coming at him. He then went inside, reloaded and shot and killed the second cub 30 feet away.

The defendant said he won't let New Jersey make an example of him.

Following the ruling Friday, defense attorney George Daggett said he's going to recommend that his client appeal the judge's decision.

``If we had been talking about humans here, there wouldn't have been a case,'' Daggett said. ``They were trying to get into the house. If it had been a man with his two sons trying to get in, no matter what, no case.''

Ehling wasn't in court Thursday. His attorney said he was vacationing in Florida.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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