MIAMI – A Florida teen no longer faces animal cruelty charges in a string of cat killings with prosecutors saying Wednesday that the defense showed some of the cats may have been killed by other animals.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office dropped the charges against 19-year-old Tyler Weinman, who was arrested in June 2009 following a two-month string of cat deaths in Miami-Dade County. Police and prosecutors, however, defended their decision to charge Weinman.
Veterinarians working with authorities concluded that 19 of 33 total cats found were killed by a human.
But a forensic veterinarian hired by Weinman's attorneys found puncture marks consistent with large animal bites on the eight cat carcasses that had been preserved. The veterinarians who made the original report admitted that the defense expert was correct. Authorities had no other carcasses to examine.
Defense attorney David Macey said Weinman was innocent and unfortunately lived in the middle of where the deaths happened.
"Tyler suffered through 17 months of humiliation, death threats and indignities that no one should have to bear," Macey said at a news conference. "The police succumbed to the lynch mob, and Tyler was arrested for a crime he didn't commit."
Weinman said police unjustly targeted him.
"There was no crime, it was just a witch hunt," he said. "They just went crazy and wanted a warm body to hold up in front of everybody."
Miami-Dade Police Department officials in a statement, however, stood by their conclusion that Weinman is the cat killer, but said they respected the prosecutors' decision.
Prosecutors also defended their decision to charge Weinman. They said many of the cats were found in posed positions and had no blood around them, which led detectives to conclude they were killed elsewhere by a human and then moved.
They said they focused on Weinman after getting a tip. When Cutler Bay police stopped him in May 2009 for a traffic infraction, they say they found marijuana in his car and arrested him.
While being questioned, investigators said Weinman, then 17, was "over enthusiastic and scary" as he talked about dissecting cats in school, vividly describing the sound their skin makes when it's torn. He also appeared to have cat scratches on his body.
Detectives say that at one point Weinman asked them, "If I tell you about the cats that I did, would you make the marijuana charges go away?" They told him that wasn't their decision and he was released to his parents.
Prosecutors say cell phone records show Weinman during the early morning hours was in the areas where cats were later found. They say that when a GPS device was secretly placed on his car, it put him in the neighborhood where two cats were found dead.
After police got a warrant to search his mother's home, officers say they found catnip, although the family did not own a cat. They say they also found a cutting device hidden in a hole made in his bedroom wall and covered by a picture. He was arrested.
When questioned this time, detectives say Weinman said, "If I tell you about the first cats that I did, can you make the rest of them go away?" Again, they told him that was not their decision.
Weinman denied offering to make any kind of deal with police on either occasion. He said his only major regret in how he handled the situation was not having a lawyer present during all of his interviews with detectives.
Prosecutors noted Wednesday that after Weinman's arrest, the cat killings stopped. However, they also acknowledged that two large stray dogs had also been captured in the area the day of his arrest.
They said the timing of the dogs' capture combined with the necropsy reports on the preserved cats forced them to drop the charges.
Macey said the Weinman family is considering a lawsuit, but it wasn't clear who they would sue.