Trial postponed for last of shark-drag defendants

The animal cruelty trial for Robert Lee Benac is now pushed to September.

Previously set for June 24, the trial was rescheduled to Sept. 16 after 13th Judicial Circuit Judge Mark Wolfe granted a continuance requested by Tampa attorney Justin Petredis for Benac.

Petredis requested the postponement due to the lack of availability of shark expert Stephen Kajiura, who, according to defense attorneys, testified in an October 2018 deposition the shark was dead before the dragging.

In his motion, Petredis called Kajiura a necessary witness for a fair trial.

Leading to charges against Benac and two other men, Michael Wenzel and Spencer Heintz, were several videos of a June 2017 fishing trip near Egmont Key. One video showing the men laughing as a shark was dragged off the back of their boat at high speed went viral. Other videos showed them spearing and shooting sharks.

Wenzel, the boat’s captain, pleaded guilty in February to a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty and use of an illegal method to catch a shark. He was fined $2,733.27 and sentenced to 10 days in jail and 11 months on probation, including 100 hours of community service. Wenzel also lost his commercial fishing license for five years.

In May 2018, Wolfe dismissed charges against Heintz after prosecutors agreed his actions were not criminal.

A fourth man on the boat, Burns Easterling, who grew up on Anna Maria Island, cooperated with authorities and was not charged.

Benac is the son of Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac.

Robert Benac’s pretrial is set for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, and his trial is scheduled for 8:30 a.m., Monday, Sept. 16.

All proceedings are set for Courtroom 62 on the sixth floor at the Hillsborough County Courthouse, 401 N. Jefferson St., Tampa.

3 thoughts on “Trial postponed for last of shark-drag defendants

  1. tanequa brown

    put him in jail. make his mother so proud! These families that think they can get away with whatever they want just because they have lived here their whole life. They are chronic abusers of the environment. They are also easily bought and paid for by developers . Like mother like son….put themm both in jail

  2. So Sad

    Just having mommy pay his way out of his childish lack of respect, nice family rooting. Yay! mom, keep leading him down the path of ignorance and disrespect. You won’t be able to save him all his life, it’ll catch up to him sooner or later…how about now! Grow up baby boy…sigh

    1. Sue

      Let’s wait for the paid expert who will say what they want him to say. Wonder who is footing this bill.


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