A Willits man accused of killing a protected leopard in South Africa in 2011 and illegally importing the hunting trophy to the United States pleaded guilty to the crime in federal court in Oakland Monday.

Adam Thatcher Lawrence, a 38-year-old real estate agent, was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this year, accused of killing the leopard without required permits and then secretly transporting the skin and skull to Mozambique, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oakland said.

He faced to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Under a plea bargain struck with prosecutors, Lawrence agreed to plead guilty to one of the two charges – mislabeling wildlife intended for importation – in exchange for the steeper charge of importation being dropped.

Lawrence now faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced June 25 by U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam.

As part of the deal, Lawrence also gave up gave up the leopard skin and skull he imported, the rifle he used to shoot the endangered animal and other items seized from his home, including a mounted mountain lion and skull, a carved hippopotamus tooth, whale bones and a harbor seal skin.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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