Judge drops charges against 1 shark dragging suspect


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Charges against one of the three men accused in a widely publicized shark-dragging case have been dropped.

Tuesday morning, a Florida judge dropped charges filed against Spencer Heintz.

Heintz, Michael Wenzel and Robert Lee Benac pleaded not guilty to multiple charges in January.

The charges are the result of a four-month investigation into a video that shows a shark being dragged behind a boat at high speed.

The video shows three men on the boat watching and laughing as the shark, which is on a rope, violently bobs up and down in the water as it is dragged.

“Look it’s already almost dead,” said one man while pointing and laughing at the shark.

Benac waived his right to appear in court on Tuesday.

Heintz, of Palmetto, originally faced two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty (third-degree felony). In court Tuesday, Heintz’s attorney said his client would continue to cooperate with investigators. 

The remaining suspects and their charges are as follows:

Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto:
•    Two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty (Third-degree felony).
•    One misdemeanor count of illegal method of take – shark (Second-degree misdemeanor).

Robert Lee Benac, 28, of Bradenton:
•    Two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty (Third-degree felony).
•    One misdemeanor count of illegal method of take – shark( Second-degree misdemeanor).

News station WFLA spoke to Hillsborough County Defense Attorney Jon Hackworth about what defenses we could see for the men charged in this case.

Hackworth says a key part of the defense will be arguing the shark was dead before it was recorded behind the boat.

“I know that is odd  to hear, but the reason being is under the statue they are … they are required to inflict pain, excessive pain or suffering of the animal so if the animal was dead before this began obviously it is then impossible to inflict excessive pain or suffering on the dead animal. I know that sounds callous, cold and certainly odd to say,” he said.

The disturbing video prompted outrage on social media and demands for the arrests of the men in the video. A petition was created and thousands signed it calling for the men to be charged.

Hackworth said this case shows the power of social media.

“If there is one lesson of this for people. It is be careful what you put on social media, because one day you don’t want it to be exhibit one against you in a jury trial,” Hackworth said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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