A man entered a guilty plea in federal court Tuesday for shooting at (and hitting) a crop-dusting airplane on Feb. 22, 2008, while it was flying near his hunting ranch in Texas. The man, Stephen Paul Riley, 41, will face sentencing in May. Court documents state that Riley shot at the crop duster, striking it numerous times with multiple bullets and nearly severing a rudder cable. Other bullets struck the aircraft's struts and tore a hole through flying surfaces on the aircraft's left side. Riley reportedly threatened the owner of Keeter Aerial Spraying prior to the incident. Local authorities have filed attempted murder charges in connection with the airplane shootings, the Wichita Falls Times Record reported Tuesday. Initial evidence against Riley was found through an unrelated search.
A search warrant executed in 2010 led to recovery of a video showing Riley firing a weapon at a different Keeter aircraft in July of 2007. The search warrant was granted to Texas Parks and Wildlife officials who were seeking evidence of illegal hunting on Riley's property. The video showed Riley firing more than 20 shots at the crop duster and during questioning Riley reportedly admitted to shooting at separate crop dusters on different occasions. Pilots were not injured. Riley's property includes a ranch that offers hunting outings for hunters of deer, turkey and other game animals. Both Texas Rangers and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are reportedly involved in the investigation as the case is prosecuted by a U.S. Attorney. Riley is free on bond pending sentencing set for May 21.