Editor’s Note : Rhonda Roland Shearer is the director of Art Science Research Laboratory, which she founded with her late husband Stephen Jay Gould. The New York-based think tank promotes cross-disciplinary studies and supports a journalism ethics program that publishes iMediaEthics, a site bent on debunking erroneous media. She and her colleagues have put hundreds of hours into investigating the claims around a “monster” pig kill in Alabama last year, which they see as a case study in how to create an international media hoax. Because the investigation involves hunting law and ethics, she has written this report for ESPNOutdoors.com, to be published simultaneously on iMediaEthics. When Jamison Stone shot and killed a massive swine in Alabama last year, the headlines blared: “Boy Bags Monster Pig in ’Bama.” An 11-year-old taking down a hog in Dixie was front-page news in Manhattan. “The Today Show” lined him up for an appearance.
Quickly, though, as the details of the hunt emerged, the spotlight abandoned Stone. After countless hours of following the story since it broke in May, I’ve pieced together a far shadier account of events than initially reported. And I’ve learned that Stone this week will face a grand jury in Clay County to answer for possible animal cruelty charges. He and the four adults he trusted – who ultimately tricked him and an overeager press – are all subject to questioning, and possible enforcement.
What went wrong?
For starters, the grand jury’s issue is not with Jamison’s father, Mike Stone, and his initial exaggeration of the pig’s dimensions. (Check out my investigation “Hog Washed!” on iMediaEthics for a breakdown of how the “hero shots” after the hunt were manipulated.) Instead, it will be investigating the more serious matter of why experienced hunters let the half-ton hog bleed out across a three-hour hunt when they had the opportunity to kill it swiftly and humanely.
Stone, now 12, may not have known better. He’s the young man you remember holding the .50 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol behind the large, hairy hog he shot at a “hunting preserve” called Lost Creek Plantation in Lineville, Ala., in May.
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He no doubt had placed trust in his father, Mike Stone, who arranged the hunt with Keith O’Neal and Charles Williams, owners of Southeastern Trophy Hunters. They brokered hunts with Eddy Borden, who owns Lost Creek.
Those men assured young Jamison that hog he killed was wild. The truth is, the animal was in fact a docile breeding swine named “Fred.”
The boy’s trust in these four men turned out to be misplaced. O’Neal, a professional hunter, persuaded the father to fork over $1,500 to guide Jamison on the rigged hunt. Their actions that day could lead Jamison to face charges in court.
How did three trained hunters and the boy’s father lead him around a fenced-in, 150-acre plot for more than three hours, allowing Jamison to repeatedly shoot – but merely wound – a 1,000-pound animal? Not one of them thought to say: “Look, son, you had your chance, but those belly shots have wounded the animal and it is in distress. We have to put the creature out of its misery.” Instead, they allowed the hog to bleed out from injury. Mike Stone told me during several phone interviews recorded over numerous hours that no kill shot was ever taken. “I regret that it didn’t die the first shot,” he told me on June 5 last year. “But that’s all I can say. That’s all I’m going to say.”
The mystery remains: Why did the hunters do nothing? As director of the Art Science Research Laboratory, which runs a media ethics program and a web site called iMediaEthics, I led hundreds of hours of on-the-record interviews and research into the monster pig case (the records of which were subpoenaed by Clay County District Attorney, Fred Thompson). The results of that investigation will offer the jury some clues.