LINCOLN, Neb. Three Merriman men have been convicted of poaching deer in Cherry County. Nathan Chappell, 27, Kip Castellaw, 22, and Ernie Bennett, 57, have been ordered by the Cherry County Court to pay a combined $15,000 in fines and $5,000 in liquidated damages for the Sept. 19 illegal killing of five mule deer near Merriman. The $20,145 in fines, damages and court costs are the largest penalties assessed by a Nebraska court against individual poachers in a single, noncommercial case since electronic records were first kept in 1996. The men originally were charged with 30 counts each for game law violations, including hunting during a closed season, hunting without permission, hunting with artificial light, game harassment, criminal trespass, and wanton waste. One count of game harassment and four counts of criminal trespass were dismissed in a plea agreement. Cherry County Judge James Orr accepted guilty pleas from each of the men on the remaining 25 charges on Nov. 2 in Valentine. Judge Orr sentenced each defendant to pay a $200 fine for each of 25 violations. He ordered the men to be responsible collectively for the $5,000 liquidated damage penalties for the five deer and to each pay $48 in court costs. All three will have their hunting and fishing privileges suspended for three years. The case began when five mule deer were shot, with four left in a field to rot, south of Merriman early on Sept. 19. The largest of the five deer, a 5-by-5 buck, was taken into Merriman before sunrise and left hanging on display on a flatbed trailer. The buck had an inside spread of 19 ½ inches. If the buck had measured 24 inches on the inside of the main beams, a mandatory $5,000 fine would have been assessed for trophy penalty status. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Conservation Officer Heath Packett of Gordon investigated the case, with assistance from Conservation Officer Dan Kling of Sioux County. "The Law Enforcement Division of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission would like to commend the private landowner where the illegal killings occurred, as well as Cherry County Attorney Eric Scott and Cherry County Judge James Orr for their work on this case," Packett said. "It is extremely gratifying when landowners, prosecutors and judges work together with law enforcement to bring poachers to justice."