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|Originally Posted: 13 December 2009|
Tell Brevard County to Prosecute Cat Shooter
Tell Brevard-Seminole State Attorney's Office to levy every pertinent weapons and animal cruelty charge against Bob Lester, and to seek maximum jail times and fines for shooting Harry four times. (Harry survived!)
State Attorney Norman R. Wolfinger
INFORMATION / TALKING POINTS
Margaret Wetzel was leaving her house around sunset three weeks ago when she heard a loud metallic bang, "an ungodly cat scream" and five gunshots.
It was the sound of her next-door neighbor, Bob Lester, a 77-year-old Vietnam War veteran, shooting her 20-plus-pound cat, Harry.
What Wetzel can't understand is why the Melbourne Village Police Department or Brevard-Seminole State Attorney's Office have not cited Lester or charged him with a crime. "He should be held accountable," Wetzel said.
The incident in the tree-shrouded neighborhood crisscrossed by walking paths raises questions about when, where and what residents may shoot under local and state laws.
Wetzel said she ran outside when she heard the shots and met up with a neighbor from across the street who confirmed that he, too, had heard gunfire. She called police.
An officer arrived, talked with Lester, then returned to Wetzel's house to tell her that her cat had been shot and seriously wounded.
The officer accompanied her to Lester's house, where she found
Harry lying in the driveway near a metal animal trap, panting
heavily and bleeding. She put the cat in a recycling bin and
rushed to a Rockledge animal hospital where she works. X-rays
showed four bullets inside the cat. The veterinarian's bill to
rebuild the cat's leg topped $5,000, she said.
Why shoot a cat? Lester said he was shooting at a wild pig and feared for his wife's safety, Wetzel said. Reached by telephone, Lester refused to comment.
"I wish it had never happened but feel that I can't let this go away," she said. She doesn't usually let Harry out, but he managed to escape without her knowing it that night. Cats aren't allowed to run loose under county animal control ordinances.
Meanwhile, it's illegal under Melbourne Village ordinances to shoot any kind of weapon that can cause bodily harm. And animal abuse is a felony under county and state laws.
But Florida's "stand-your-ground" law, enacted in 2005, establishes conditions under which a person can shoot an intruder who threatens bodily harm.
Melbourne Village Police Chief Jack King would say only that the matter was referred to the State Attorney's Office and was under investigation. Police faxed the report to the office on Dec. 3.
The office confirmed only the time, date and location of the cat shooting and that it was investigating the possible discharge of a firearm within town limits and alleged animal abuse.
"At this point, nothing is actually a public record," Deputy State Attorney Wayne Holmes said.
Holmes said he has requested a copy of the town's ordinances, the cat's veterinary records and a statement from the neighbor who also heard the shooting. Prosecutors routinely take weeks to decide on charges, Holmes said.
The shooting could fall into a legal gray area in which police can't make an arrest unless an officer witnessed it, Holmes said.
"If an allegation of a firearm being discharged doesn't occur in the presence of a police officer, the officer cannot make an arrest, under state law," Holmes said. An exception could be a case of alleged animal abuse, he said.
Bill Moon, a resident of Melbourne Village and a friend of Wetzel, said he, too, is concerned.
"We're basically a bunch of tree-hugging, animal-loving people -- just so out of character for the community here that something like this would happen," Moon said.
Thank you for everything you do for animals!