Charleston Man Given Presidential Pardon

Charleston Man Given Presidential Pardon
By: Crystal Britt
CHARLESTON, Mo. - He's longer considered a convicted felon. A Charleston man is among 14 people pardoned by President Bush this week. 
Twelve years ago, Leslie Collier pleaded guilty to killing two bald eagles in Mississippi County. It's something Collier says he never meant to do.
December 1994, Les Collier made a decision he'd live to regret.
"I got it into my head to eliminate some of the turkey predators," he said. "I thought I'll give the turkey flock a boost." 
Les says one day he sat out poisoned meat in about four places along a dirt road near farmland east of Charleston.
"I expected I'd kill coyotes, and opossums and may be some raccoons," he said.
But, he says he never thought he'd kill eagles.  
"Coyotes did die. I killed several coyotes and the bald eagles ate the dead coyotes."
A couple months later, someone reported seeing a dead eagle.  Just as the authorities got involved, two more dead eagles were found.
"Started doing their investigation and wound up talking to me."
Collier says he told the truth.
"The federal agent told me he said, probably what's going to happen is you'll get a ticket in the mail, pay your fine and it'll be all over."
Instead, a few weeks later he reported to the Federal Courthouse in St. Louis.
"They took me into custody, did the mug shots and the fingerprinting."
He was indicted in July of 1995 and sentenced in 1996 to two years probation.  He paid a $100 fine and paid $10,000 restitution to replace the eagles.  He was also hit with this title: "Convicted Felon".
"They tell me you're going to loose your right to bear firearms, and your right to vote.  I said for how long?  They said forever." said Collier. 
As a life long hunter, the news hurt.
"We've always been a hunting family.  It's part of our family.  I called the Division of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Cape Girardeau, and they told me the only thing I could do would be to get a presidential pardon." 
A lot of paperwork would follow, including a Petition for a Pardon in 2002.  Three years later, an FBI agent paid him a visit.
"We went a long time and didn't hear anything," said Collier.
That's until Monday morning.
"They called from the White House and said, I had my pardon," he said.
He calls it a humbling experience considering so many people helped him get to this moment.
"I think the kind of people they are...thank you is enough.  They did it because they're my friends."
Collier's still sorry for what he did 14 years ago, but he's relieved this chapter of his life is now behind him.
"It's just like a big rock's been taken off my neck."
Collier credits the relentless efforts of local politicians, his mother and friends who've never given up on this pardon.  He's a huge fan of President Bush who will probably get a nice mention around the Thanksgiving dinner table.