A Washington physician accused of slaying a goose with his golf club at Congressional Country Club paid a $500 fine for violating federal hunting laws today and left federal court without telling anyone what happened.
"This is the end of history," Dr. Sherman A. Thomas told a mystified court clerk as he handed over his personal check for the fine. "Do you want to handle history?"
Thomas had been charged with using his golf club to illegally kill a Canada goose out of season and with unlawful possession of a goose protected by the Migratory Bird Act.
But the physician's attorneys plea bargained with prosecutors and won a reduction of the charges to a hunting citation, similar to a traffic ticket.
Thomas' criminal record will reflect a misdemeanor conviction of a hunting law, a court clerk said, although a person charged by citation is not required to enter a formal plea.
Thomas still could face possible loss of his country club membership in Bethesda, where his activities during a much-publicized golf game last May 3 incurred the wrath of some members.
A source close to the investigation said Thomas gave a statement to the country clubs board of directors, saying the goose was injured by his golf ball and he decapitated it by pulling its head off to put it out of its misery.
He tossed the head into a pond and brought the carcass back to his golf cart, sources said.
Decapitation "sounds sort of gruesome," said one source.
"But to a hunter, it's not a gruesome or abnormal thing to kill a crippled bird by cutting its head off. His whole defense was that what he did was permissible during hunting season, and he's right, if you assume his story is correct that the goose was wounded."
Several golfers who were near the 17th green, where the incident occurred, told investigators the goose was "a lot more lively than Thomas indicated," one source said. They reportedly added they saw Thomas "thrashing wildly" with his golf club but said they weren't close enough to see what had caused the 66-year-old family practitioner's apparent anger.
"Was the goose injured? Did he hit the goose with the ball? I don't know," one witness said today. "I really couldn't see anything because of the slope at the 17th green.
"ShermanS probably the only guy who knows the true story."
The two most often repeated versions of the incident are Thomas' defense that it was a mercy killing and an earlier account that the goose honked and spoiled a putt, enraging the doctor and prompting him to beat the animal to death.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt L. Schmoke said today that "neither the putting story nor the mercy-killing story is true. The truth probably lies somewhere in between."
He refused to elaborate.
Charles N. Shaffer, Thomas' close-mouthed lawyer, said: "The statute calls for a maximum penalty of $500, which Dr. Thomas had agreed to pay. And that concludes the case of U.S.A. versus Thomas."
Shaffer, who attained a national reputation when he represented Nixon accuser John W. Dean III during the Watergate scandal, refused to discuss the incident further.