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Traveling rattlesnake wrangler to face charges in Sullivan County court

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BHC 06062017 Snake Show Cancel 01

David Richardson holds up “Dusty” one of several western diamondback rattlesnakes that he uses for his Western Texas Rattlesnake Show.

A New York man accused of illegally bringing rattlesnakes into Tennessee nearly five years ago is ready to stand trial in Sullivan County. 

Longtime rattlesnake wrangler David Richardson, owner of the traveling West Texas Rattlesnake Show, was cited in June 2017 by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) for possessing wildlife without a permit and for violating state law in the housing and transportation of the venomous snakes. 

Richardson was in Sullivan County to perform at the Bristol Fair when he was cited. 

Now, the Syracuse, New York resident, who believes he is innocent, is ready to face a jury trial later this month after denying multiple plea bargains and demanding a jury trial, he said. 

“They’re not going to make a criminal out of Rattlesnake Dave,” Richardson said. “I’m not a criminal, and I did not break the law.”

In February 2018, a grand jury indicted Richardson, now 75 years old, and brought on an additional charge for endangering life, according to lead prosecutor Kristen Rose, assistant district attorney in Sullivan County. 

Richardson faces a total of seven charges, including five counts of violating state law in reference to the housing and transportation of the snakes.  

Despite being denied a permit by the TWRA in 2017, Richardson said he completed the permit application and paid the applicable fee in order to bring his rattlesnake show to Bristol, Tennessee. He also contends that the additional charges don’t apply to him as “an out-of-state temporary exhibitor.” 

“I submit I had a permit because the law grants the permit,” Richardson said. “I claim that the law granted me the permit.” 

Richardson says he has been doing the rattlesnake show for three decades, taking the show to more than 30 states, and has never been bitten. His trial in Sullivan County Criminal Court is scheduled to begin May 26.

TWRA officials have been reluctant to speak on that matter since the case is still pending. 

Richardson said he will appeal any conviction.

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