State looks to prove shark was alive during dragging video
TAMPA (FOX 13) - There was outrage and anger after video surfaced of a blacknose shark being dragged behind a boat at a high speed. Now, the young men allegedly behind it face serious jail time if convicted.
Michael Wenzel, Spencer Heintz, and Robert Benac face aggravated animal cruelty charges. Only Heintz showed up for court Tuesday and had a smirk for the media pool camera.
Defense attorney Anthony Rickman, who is not connected to the case, says the defendants are now in a world of hurt and have no one to blame but themselves.
"If it wasn't for their own posting on Facebook and Instagram, and it going viral, they might not ever have been charged with a crime," said Rickman.
ORIGINAL REPORT: Viral shark-dragging video leads to FWC investigation
But in order to prove aggravated animal cruelty, the state has to show the shark was alive while it was being dragged.
The prosecution may be getting help in that regard from someone on the boat that day. Nicholas Burns Easterling may now be cooperating with the state. He's the only one not facing charges and is now on the prosecution's witness list.
Rickman says Easterling's testimony is key.
"It's essentially my belief that this person will be testifying on behalf of the state and if this individual does testify, he may be testifying that that shark was alive and they dragged the shark to kill it," explained Rickman.
Court documents also show one of the defendants was on Instagram telling people the purpose of dragging the shark was to "kill it" and dragging it backward was the way to do it.
But the most damning piece of evidence was shot, posted, and delivered by the defendants themselves.
"I don't think a jury will like that video the same way the public didn't like the video," added Rickman.
If convicted of the charges, each faces up to 10 years in prison, but Rickman believes there's a good chance the defendants will cut a deal with the state and avoid a trial.