A three-woman, four-man Carbon County jury heard a prosecutor allege Wednesday that four Missouri hunters “wanted an opportunity to challenge the law” when they corner crossed to access public land while hunting near Elk Mountain Ranch.

County Prosecutor Ashley Mayfield Davis told the jury that the hunters had to pass through the airspace above private Elk Mountain Ranch property as they went from one parcel of federal property to another in 2021. “Landowners don’t just own the land,” she told the jury, “you also own your airspace.”

But an attorney for the defendants, who face counts of criminal trespass and, for three of them, an alternate charge of trespassing to hunt, said the four never set foot on another person’s property.

“What you won’t hear is [that] these men ever touched private property,” Trevor Schenk said. The case will show that Phillip G. Yeomans, Bradly H. Cape, John W. Slowensky and Zachary M. Smith went from one piece of U.S. Bureau of Land Management property to another where the parcels share a common corner with two pieces of Elk Mountain Ranch land.

“These men traveled through the air above the ground,” he said. “They did not touch any private property.”

“This,” he said, swishing his arm over an imaginary property line, “is not criminal trespass.”

The case involves the checkerboard pattern of land ownership in parts of Carbon County — and millions of acres in the American West — where private and public land are interspersed. Corner crossing involves stepping from one piece of public land to another at the common corner with two pieces of private property.

The misdemeanor trial before Carbon County Circuit Court Judge Susan Stipe is expected to last two days although she cautioned that timeframe is an estimate. 

Before the lawyers presented their opening arguments, Stipe guided the six defense attorneys, two prosecutors and 58-person jury pool through the jury selection process that lasted about five hours.

Opening arguments

In her opening, prosecutor Mayfield Davis framed the case as one an elementary school student could understand. She used an example of a school child reaching into the private mailbox of another student at school to illustrate how young people learn about limits.

“In life there are boundaries everywhere,” she said.

Corner-crossing defendants wait for their trial to begin in Rawlins on April 27, 2022. They are Phillip Yeomans, second from left and partly obscured; John Slowensky, foreground in the front row, Bradly Cape, second from left in back row and Zach Smith, right. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

Those exist at Elk Mountain Ranch where Fred Eshelman, a North Carolina businessman, philanthropist, conservationist, hunter and donor to conservative political causes, holds title to the private sections at the four-parcel intersection in question.

Mayfield Davis focused on the airspace above Eshelman’s property.

To corner cross “you’re going to break that plane” above the private property boundary line, she said.

“They essentially are pushing their boundaries,” she said of the hunters.

Land ownership includes the right to exclude others from the property, she told jurors. By posting “no trespassing” signs on fence posts on the private land at the corner “they were asserting their ownership right” she said.

The four wanted “to take somebody else’s property and use it without compensation,” Mayfield Davis said.

Attorneys from both sides appeared to agree that testimony will show that the hunters used a fence ladder to climb over the two fence posts in question. The posts were placed close together — each on a separate private parcel — and connected with a chain and lock.

Attorneys also appeared to agree that a brass survey monument marks the corner in question and the hunters used a Global Positioning System device, maps and land records to locate it before making their crossing.

“Landowners don’t just own the land. You also own your airspace.”

Prosecutor Ashley Mayfield Davis

Another defense attorney, Ryan Semerad, said the hunters had several times talked to law enforcement officers about corner crossing. Evidence will show that a Game and Fish warden said corner crossing is “not a crime” and that a sheriff’s deputy told the men he would not cite them, but would report the matter to the county attorney.

“What would you think?” Semerad asked jurors about corner crossing under those circumstances.

A sheriff’s deputy ultimately cited the four with criminal trespass at Mayfield Davis’ request, according to court documents and previous statements.

Criminalizing corner crossing effectively turns a landowner into a king, Semerad said, who can exclude the public from public property. The United States has no king, he said, Wyoming has no king, nor does Carbon County.

“Elk Mountain certainly has no king,” Semerad said. A private landowner “can’t take public land.”

One witness

Mayfield Davis called one witness on the first day of the trial — Eshelman attorney Greg Weisz. Described as a land-ownership specialist, he said he was familiar with the ranch, its boundaries and easements. At the corner in question “there are no easements for access for the public,” he testified.

Private Elk Mountain Ranch property surrounds several sections of public land, he said.

On cross examination defense attorney Semerad asked whether the warranty deed for the property says that Eshelman’s Iron Bar Holdings LLC “owns and controls the corner.”

“The deed doesn’t say that,” Weisz said.

Weisz has filed a separate civil suit for Eshelman’s Iron Bar Holdings LLC against the four hunters. He said Wednesday he had not thought about whether he would bill Eshelman for the time he spent as a witness in the criminal trespass case.

Questioning Weisz, defense attorney Patrick Lewallen said that there was an attempt to subpoena Eshelman for the trial but that the subpoena was “quashed.” Weisz said only that he knew a sheriff’s deputy had gone to the Elk Mountain Ranch to serve a subpoena and that Eshelman was apparently not there.

Weisz said he talked to Eshelman at the businessman’s office telephone number in North Carolina that day.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. I think all you folks are looking at this the wrong way. instead of throwing rocks at poor ole Ashly and wrongfully accusing her of taking bribes etc. we ought to be thanking her for finally bringing this long standing issue to the forefront and having it resolved by a jury of our peers.
    It was money well spent. Not wasted as suggested😂

  2. I wish you out of state landowners would go back where you came from. We in Wyoming did quite well for all these years without your greedy grasping ways. As a Child. I was able to roam all over the hills, on other peoples property. The only caveat was to do no damage, leave closed gates closed, and leave no trash behind. That was the Wyoming way, now you people come and want to force all your big city beliefs on us. If it was so great where you came from what in the hell are you doing here?

  3. Shall we all take turns calling the Carbon County Attorney’s office everytime a plane flies over?

  4. ” Fred Eshelman, a North Carolina businessman, philanthropist, conservationist, hunter and donor to conservative political causes”

    How come only billionaire’s get long titles justifying their existence? The 4 men from Missouri only get their names listed.

  5. When someone owns land which has no road access and is therefore landlocked, then there is a right to an “Easement By Necessity.” The courts have found that landlocking a parcel of real property is against public policy–because the landlocked land is no longer “useful.”

    Since the question is about public access to public land, it seems to me that the simplest solution is for the BLM, USFS, or other administrator of public lands to simply assert easements of necessity to allow the public legal access to public land.

    The concept of Easement by Necessity has existed in common law since prior to the founding of our Republic. I would think that the only legal issue for the Courts would be “where” the easement by necessity is located, not “whether” it exists.

  6. Years ago when a different owner owned the Elk Mountain ranch the same arguments were used when a paraglider would launch his craft on public property, then fly over the ranch to hunt elk on public property. He would shoot an elk load it and then fly back onto the public property. The same argument of air space was used and if my memory serves me the hunter was found faultless and he was in within his rights to do so. Also the rights to fish from a floating device or boat through land owned as I remember on the Green River were upheld as long as the fisherman didn’t step on the bank. It seems like it is dega vue all over again. Sportsman should be able to use public lands and we should unlock those land through state law. If a person owns land by law I believe his neighbor can not is restrict access to that land. I am not an attorney, and am going on what I remember from the past.

  7. Listening to the trial online today, I’m pleased to announce that the Prosecutor dished up a whole lotta WEAK SAUCE. What a bunch of irrelevant and redundant junk. Thank god Ashley Mayfield wasn’t the Attorney General during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Otherwise, none of us would be here or we’d all be speaking Russian

  8. Interesting that my land ownership includes the air above. Just how far up do you suppose I own? To the moon? The sun?

  9. Was listening to the audio broadcast of these trial. from what I heard, it appears that the prosecution is trying to make the argument (or just confuse the jurors) that there is enough public land to hunt, so these hunters should just forget about trying to corner cross to access this certain piece of public land adjacent to the Eshelman property. In other words, saying “well, golly gee, ya know, maybe you should just hunt the XYZ piece of BLM down the road….aw heck, no reason for you to want to hunt the BLM piece (next to Eshelman)….dagnabbit, the huntin’ is better at the XYZ piece anyway…….” wow, talk about a backwoods attempt at kangarooing this court. I dearly hope the hunters prevail and then can turn around and sue the pants off of both the Elk Mountain contingency and this cracker DA team

  10. The real victims here are the four Missourians who were harassed and interfered with by Eshelman’s goon squad. When Ashley Mayfield, prosecuting attorney makes the statement “wanted to take somebody else’s property and use it without compensation” , this should be referred to the Elk Mt Ranch people who tried to deny U.S. citizen’s access and use of Federal Lands. Eshelman should be the Defendant and while in holy heck wasn’t the Elk Mt Ranch brown shirts ticketed for harassing the hunters in their pursuit of wildlife? Is Carbon County some backwater leper colony that’s been purchased by a fly-in billionaire? Hopefully the jury will see through this banana republic hanging and the tables get turned on Team Eshelman/Mayfield

  11. Ashley Mayfield’s intro: “a school child reaching into private mailbox” HUH? I’ve got an idea for you Ms. Clever, how about asking the defendants to try on the bloody glove? And then you boldly accuse the 4 hunter of theft: “The four wanted to take somebody else’s property and use it without compensation” What was stolen, Miss Mayfield? Did they steal the public land that they hunted on? Did they pickpocket the Elk owned by the citizens of Wyoming on this public land? Who again is this so called victim of theft? Eshelman? Do you have a problem knowing if you’re in present day reality or a made for tv sitcom? One more question, Ashley, where’s your star witness? You know, the billionaire that is so “hurt, neglected and a victim of theft” by the marauding band of Missouri hunters? Wow, go through 4 years of college then law school and this was the best you could come up with? The entire state will be erupting in laughter very soon my dear and thanks so much for wasting everyone’s time and money………but heck, I’ll bet you’ll still cash your bi-monthly paycheck from the county

  12. Turn yourself in to the Carbon County Attorney. She might be willing to offer you immunity or at least a reduced sentence, if you’ll rat out the fellow passengers, crew and airline. By blatantly flying over the Eshelman property, you’re no better then a mere child sticking your hand in a mailbox and should be thoroughly punished and tarred & feathered for life

  13. If I was a jurist and the Plaintiff, who’s claiming great harm and damage to his property (the air???) and being purposefully withheld from enjoying his property (the air???) is a voluntary no show (squashed subpoena to appear) in this trial, then my mind is going to be made up fairly quickly. NOT GUILTY. But, I wonder, just wonder if Mr. Eshelman is not the catalyst in these BS proceedings? It looks like we have a aspiring high climber County Prosecutor trying to make a big name for herself. Ashley Mayfield is making a big name alright, but I’m sure Angus T. & WyoFile will appreciate me not repeating it. Again, since Fred Eshelman supposedly feels so violated and harassed, why aren’t you Rawlins to look the jury in the eye and state your case? Oh, since I’m on a roll (will be here all week), has Prosecutor Mayfield subpoenaed the testimony of the air molecules at this corner crossing site? Their feelers were probably hurt, too. Im Jess Stewart and I approve of this message

  14. While I like the coverage from WYOFILE… I have to question this section…

    Those exist at Elk Mountain Ranch where Fred Eshelman, a North Carolina businessman, philanthropist, conservationist, hunter and donor to conservative political causes, holds title to the private sections at the four-parcel intersection in question.

    Why the heck is any of that relevant at all. Did WYOFIle get a little brown envelope? What difference does it make, unless you are trying to sway the public to think a certain way? Wouldn’t simply saying landowner Fred…. work?

  15. I will be honest with everyone, I am not a lawyer. But I see this as a attempt to do what I would call is the exact opposite of what the desired results will be. We have leaned over the course of years that the Government on many layers cannot take land from a private individual without reasonable compensation. I seen land swaps of near equal value and other means to obtain lands for public works from private citizens. But what I see here is a private entity trying to control rights on public lands without any compensation. I consider the idea of crossing hunters disturbing the air space above the corner laughable. Has the county attorney collected air sample above the corner and tested for harmful elements, molecules or other gasses? Has the county sheriffs deputies interviewed individual molecules asking the affecting atoms what harm they received by the whoosh of the leg going over the post? Yes it sounds ludicrous but lawsuits and ordnances have been written and created for when a property private or public does not take reasonable precautions to make sure the neighbors don’t get sick or poisoned by neighbors activity. But this is clearly not the case here. It’s a man stepping over a post in a attemp buy the Jane ones without compensation trying to control access to adjacent public lands without compensation to the controlling government angency, this case the BLM and eventually the whole of all the American People. The solution is simple enough. Makeing these corners neutral by planing a 5 foot square at each of these corners to be used specifically to cross through a corner without the need of a ladders and expensive litigation.

    1. That last idea of making space available to cross public land is great. It should be written into all public land leases from now on.

  16. So after reading some of the comments regarding “tying up our court system and tax payers fund”, I believe this case is not that simple. The “unlawful inclosure act of public land act of 1885” prohibits land locking public lands; which is being done by Elk Mountain properties. The outcome of this case will effect everyone in this state; god or bad. The public has every right to enjoy public lands without harassment.

    1. You can’t drive along a county road, maintained by County paid workers to a parcel of “Public Land”. If said road traverses through a private ranch in the state of Wyoming ? What’s with that ?

  17. I have a confession to make. A couple of weeks ago, I flew on a commercial airline from Denver to Salt Lake. This aircraft went directly over the Elk Mountain Ranch holdings so, in trying to do the right thing here, I’d like to voluntarily turn myself in for trespassing through Eshelman’s air. I mean, due to how rich and influential Mr. Eshelman is, you just don’t violate this mans air space. The quandary is, who do I surrender to? The ranch Lackie? Eshelman’s agent Ashley Mayfield? Apparently Eshelman is no where to be found in this proceeding, so can’t go to him. Mind you, I’m not going to take the fall alone and will provide the name of my accomplices, who is; the airline, it’s crew and fellow passengers. Carbon County is going to have a field day cashing the penalty checks and Eshelman will make millions more suing us all for civil damages because of our willingly and reckless abuse of his “air”. I’m dealing in royalty here and no way would myself, just a mere peasant get away with this trespassing so thought it’s better to willingly turn myself in.

  18. Wait a minute. The hunters were there to kill an animal, right? If they had been standing on public land, and shot an elk that was standing on Eshelman’s land, would they have been accused of theft?

  19. This is a very important case. Access to millions of acres of public land hangs in the balance. To claim that a private landowner, of which I’m one, owns the air space above the land is rediculous. I’ve encouraged the NRA-ILA to submit an amicus brief in this case.

    1. I don’t know about an amicus brief but I do know these fat cat landowners are harboring wildlife and in essence reserving public land for their private benefit. Regardless of the outcome, the folks with the ladder get an “atta boy” for creativity.

  20. My name is Ethan call, and l live in Rawlins, Wyoming. I did my homework, and the federal laws and commentaries to the same day specifically that no state can make a law that contradicts an already existing law on the matter. The state law contradicts the federal law that states that none shall prohibit anyone from crossing private land to access public land beyond. Also that that access shall be free without a fee to cross. This is the real issue, that Wyoming is breaking the federal law.

  21. Being that much of this prosecution is hinging on the fact that Eshelman is “rich and powerful” as proclaimed by one of his ranch flunkies, I’d be concerned about “power and money” tampering with the jury. Are they sequestered and safe from any outside influence? Will there be shadows outside their homes at 2 a.m., plain brown envelopes left at the doorstep, anonymous phone call warnings? This trial is not about simple trespass, it’s about power and money and influence and when you factor all this in, rules generally aren’t followed by the elite. Again, the video tells the world “don’t you know how rich my boss is?” But, we do have one thing on our side – Angus Thuermer and Wyofile. They’ll catch every sinister move pulled in the kangaroo court and the ultimate verdict will come from the court of public opinion?

  22. What harm has been done for Pete’s sake? If the prosecution is accurate in their allegation that the airspace is owned, then to what height?! Ridiculous use of taxpayer funds. Also, all of this is brought by four guys from Missouri and a rich guy from NC. – tying up a courtroom in Wyoming over a misdemeanor where no one has had their pocket picked or their arm broken.

    1. You own up to the height of navigable air space I think they are claiming. What is a reasonable altitude for a plane to fly. The drone question hasn’t been settled. For the people that think this is ludicrous, if the people of Carbon County agree they can vote this prosecutor our at election if she has an opponent. I would imagine after all this she will indeed have one. And good points made about tying up the courts for petty offenses. That happens all the time in this state with our overzealous police and prosecutors. Save the resources for the real criminals.

      1. There is a bit to that, but the air space argument was based on the idea that a plane flying low could cause stress and decrease the properties owners enjoyment of the land. So the flight thing was based on how high a plane can fly and not be considered intrusive to the land owners enjoyment of their private land.

        So even if we use that standard, how does a person stepping over the corner actually, decrease the landowners ability enjoy their land? Especially if said land owner is not present or even in the same time zone?

        I get the argument as I would not want a helicopter flying over my house at 10 feet. On the flipside, if my neighbors kid reaches over my fence to pet my dog, I am not sure that is trespassing as the kids arm over my fence is not preventing me from enjoying my land…

        I am not disagreeing with you but adding context to the original case.

  23. Does that mean flying a drone over the property would also be illegal? Where does the ownership of airspace stop? What about those commercial airlines flying overhead?

  24. I could be wrong, but I don’t see how a jury of 7 can find someone guilty of trespassing when they don’t even touch private land. If they are found guilty, then it opens as massive can of worms for every person who waves a hand over private property from any sidewalk in the state. And then what about aircraft? On a typical commercial flight, how many times does a passenger trespass over private property? At 600 dollars and 6 months in jail for each violation, would anyone dare fly on a plane again? The truth is, this is nothing more than an attempt for the wealthy to take public lands.

  25. “Landowners don’t just own the land. You also own your airspace.”
    – Prosecutor Ashley Mayfield Davis

    … and I just saw a 500 pound Pig fly.

      1. subject to: W.S. 10-4-303… (a) Flight of aircraft, including unmanned aircraft or vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, over the lands and waters of this state is lawful unless it is:
        (i) At such a low altitude as to interfere with the existing use to which the land or water, or the space over the land or water, is put by the owner;

        Even if they try to apply the “air space” argument here, it would be a stretch to say these 4 men were interfering with the existing use of the private land owner with the few seconds of air space use and a ladder. You want to talk about child comprehension?

        1. yeah that is my take and exactly where I think this case will be hinged. The original flight case and the WY law were about flight over the property. Both seem to hinge on the idea that the activity negatively impacted the use and enjoyment of private lands. I can see the argument that no one should have a helicopter fly 10 feet above their house, but I do not see any case that cam be made here that the actions of these men created a significant disruption to the use of this private land…

          Also to note, if a person can float a river and not tress pass unless they set foot on the bottom, cant a person also step over the same land and not touch it? If there was a pond at that corner they could have used a boat and accessed, so why not a ladder?

  26. “In her opening, prosecutor Mayfield Davis framed the case as one an elementary school student could understand. She used an example of a school child reaching into the private mailbox of another student at school to illustrate how young people learn about limits.”….this is the best analogy you got, Mayfield Davis? Wow. The hunters never touched Eshelman’s property, NOT EVEN ONCE. Your only argument is that the hunters touched Eshelman’s “air”….are you going to subpoena the atmosphere to testify in court so that it can tell the jury how “damaged” it became because 4 hunters “touched” it? THIS IS ALL YOU HAVE???? Where’s Eshelman? He can’t be present at this trial to cry and moan over “his” air being soiled, dirtied, damaged and rendered unusable by the 4 hunters? The citizens of Carbon County have already seen right through you, Ashley Mayfield-Davis and if you and your client weren’t able to finagle a bought and paid for kangaroo court jury, good ole’ common sense Wyomingites who’ve been empaneled are going to laugh you right out of the courthouse.

    1. I laughed at that as well… If I was on the jury, I would have laughed her out of the court. Seriously advanced degree in law and the best you got was a little kid and a mail box?