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Wildlife expert: Fatal animal attack ‘highly unlikely’ in Redwine case

Biologist describes bear activity in Durango, Vallecito region
Mark Redwine, center, stands as the jury leaves the courtroom Tuesday during his trial in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Jurors received a crash course in bear behavior Wednesday as prosecutors sought to punch holes in defense attorneys’ suggestion that Dylan Redwine, 13, may have died in an animal attack rather than at the hands of his father on Nov. 19, 2012, in the Vallecito area.

Heather Johnson, a wildlife biologist who studied bear behavior from 2011 to 2017 in the Durango area, testified about bear attacks and hibernation patterns on the eighth day of a murder trial for Mark Redwine, the boy’s father.

Redwine is charged with second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. He has pleaded not guilty.

An animal attack in the Vallecito region near Redwine’s home in November would be “highly unlikely,” Johnson said. Most bears were in hibernation by that time, and there was no human trash that would have attracted a bear to the area, she testified.

“They are not looking for food that late in the season,” she said. “We don’t have bear conflicts in November, generally.”

Large prey, like a small child, would not be a primary food source for large animals like bears and mountain lions, Johnson said. But fawns and elk are common prey in spring and summer, she said.

There have been only four fatal wild bear attacks since 1900 in Colorado, including one attack in April 2021, she said. There have been two deaths by a mountain lion in Colorado, Johnson said, both in the 1990s. Most attacks, if any, occur in the summer months, she said.

Additionally, mountain lions and bears would not pick up human remains or small items like trash and move them long distances, Johnson said. However, coyotes sometimes eat prey that is already dead and move items over distances, she said.

Dylan’s remains and personal possessions found on Middle Mountain Road were separated by more than 5 miles, and prosecutors wanted to show the high improbability for an animal to complete that task.

The wildlife testimony came after several witnesses testified about finding Dylan’s remains. The first of those remains were found in June 2013, when investigators found a shoe and other items belonging to the boy. Soon after, they found bones and more clothing.

Tonya Golbricht, a deputy and a former investigator with the La Plata County Sheriff's Office, testifies Wednesday during the trial for Mark Redwine, who is charged with second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in the death of his son, Dylan. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Dylan Redwine’s skull found by off-trail hikers

In November 2015, a married couple hiking off-trail in the wilderness area northeast of Vallecito Reservoir came across something law enforcement had been looking for for nearly three years: Dylan Redwine’s skull.

Tonya Golbricht, a supporting investigator in the death investigation, testified that Daniel and Leigha Foster found the skull 5 miles from where his first remains were found in June 2013.

Leigha Foster testified that her husband picked up the skull first and said, “‘Hey, honey, what do you think this is?’”

“I immediately knew it was a skull,” Leigha said. But her husband was skeptical, she said.

“I just thought it looked neat,” Daniel Foster said.

Daniel testified the area looked like an “animal den.” He said there were no other bones in the area, but animal fur was stuck to surrounding trees and shrubs.

Daniel Foster eventually set down the skull within a foot of where he had found it. There was no clear damage to the skull when they found it, and no damage was done by them to the skull, Leigha testified. Daniel dropped the skull “from knee-length” in a shallow stream, he told the jury.

The Fosters continued their hike, but after returning home a neighbor gave Leigha Foster a phone number for the police so she could report the found skull. Leigha and Daniel met investigator Golbricht the next day, and together they went to relocate the skull.

It took two full days to find the skull with the help of the Fosters, Golbricht said. During the process, Golbricht grew frustrated, she said.

“I was starting to question whether or not she did in fact find a human skull,” Golbricht said.

Eventually, Golbricht said the search team found the skull after the husband tripped when crossing over a drainage stream on Nov. 3, 2015.

“His foot went in the water, and he stumbled and then he found the skull, and he picked it up,” Golbricht said. “When he picked it up, he raised it over his head.”

Daniel said he picked up the skull and said, “I found it.”

A defense lawyer asked Leigha Foster if it was true that Golbricht said, “I can’t wait to see the look on his face,” upon finding the skull. Leigha said, “Yes,” but it was unclear who she was referring to with the word “he.”

Golbricht said she quickly took the skull from Daniel and gently set it down, being mindful of the fragility of the evidence. There was no forensic excavation of the area before the skull was removed because it was about to snow, she said.

A picture of Dylan Redwine’s skull was shown to jurors June 21 in the trial for Mark Redwine, who is charged with second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in the death of his son, Dylan. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

In a different line of questioning, Golbricht was asked about her interactions with Mark Redwine.

She said Redwine voluntarily turned over a fishing pole July 16, 2014, that law enforcement and rescue workers had searched for since Dylan’s disappearance more than a year earlier. When Dylan went missing on Nov.19, 2012, Redwine said Dylan may have gone fishing – a frequent hobby of his.

Golbricht carried out a search warrant of Redwine’s white Dodge truck and luggage in the vehicle in March 2014 where she found Dylan’s debit card and itinerary from the trip to Vallecito.

Redwine had previously told investigators he had no items belonging to Dylan, Golbricht said.

On Aug. 14, 2013, a warrant was served at Redwine’s home where several items were seized, she said. The septic tank at the Vallecito home was searched in February 2014 where nothing of evidentiary value was found, she said.

Golbricht recalled a tip that law enforcement received in August 2016 reporting that Redwine was seen throwing away multiple items in a dumpster off County Road 223, between Elmore’s Corner and Bayfield, north of U.S. Highway 160. She went to the scene and found multiple pictures of Dylan and Elaine Hall in the trash, she testified.

Kaela Roeder is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a 2021 graduate of American University in Washington, D.C.

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