Hillsborough County

Animal cruelty charge not dropped in shark dragging case, judge rules

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) - The last of the men accused of dragging and shooting a shark asked a Hillsborough County judge to dismiss an animal cruelty charge against him in court Thursday.

After hearing arguments from the defense and state prosecutors, Judge Mark R. Wolfe ruled that the charge will be heard by a jury and the jury must decide if Robert Benac is guilty or innocent of the offense.

Disturbing video of the incident went viral in 2017 and angered animal rights activists across the country.

Benac’s attorney said prosecutors can't prove much of anything against his client.

Benac is the last person in the group of Tampa Bay area men to not have his case resolved with either having charges dropped or accepting a plea deal. 

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Benac’s attorney argued the charges should be dismissed because he lawfully caught the shark by hook-and-line. 

"My client did not know Mr. [Michael] Wenzel was going to shoot the shark until it was occurring," attorney Justin Petredis said after the hearing.

Petredis also claim there's no evidence showing Benac helped with the shooting.

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Benac could spend a decade behind bars if found guilty on felony animal cruelty charges, however, Petredis said that's highly unlikely.

Petredis also hopes the jury will see the entire video of the incident and not short parts of it.

"The videos are clips.  And there's a lot not on the clips and the state needs to fill in the gaps, and if they can't fill in the gaps, and explain, obviously they haven't met their burden," he said.

The case is expected to go before a jury on June 24, Judge Wolfe said Thursday.


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