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Florida Man's 'Stand Your Ground' Defense Rejected In 'Painful and Terrifying' Iguana Killing

WEST PALM BEACH (CBSMiami/AP/CNN) – Motion denied. That's the ruling from a Palm Beach County judge in the case of a Florida man who used the "stand your ground" defense to try and get an animal cruelty charge dropped after prosecutors say he brutally beat an iguana to death.

PJ Nilaja Patterson said he only beat the iguana to death after it attacked him. Patterson's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the charge, claiming he was trying to save the animal from getting run over by cars in Lake Worth of September 2, 2020. When he brought it to safety, a crowd agitated the animal and it bit his right arm when he tried to move it, according to the motion. It says he then "kicked the iguana as far as he could."

Patterson had to get 22 staples in his arm because of the bite, according to the motion.

"In this case, Patterson acted in a reasonable manner under all the circumstances because the wild iguana was first to engage with physical violence, during the encounter," his attorneys wrote.

Florida's stand your ground law states deadly force can be used if a person "reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm." In this case, Patterson's attorneys said the animal was the first to engage in aggression, so Patterson had a right to defend himself.

They also wrote that Patterson believed the 3-foot-long iguana "could have injected poison" into him. "Thus, he rushed to incapacitate the iguana the best way he could in order to preserve its antidote," they wrote.

Iguanas are not poisonous and typically run when a human approaches.

Prosecutors say surveillance video shows Patterson brutally attacking the iguana during a half-hour assault. Prosecutors say the animal bit Patterson in self-defense.

Prosecutor Alexandra Dorman said the video shows how Patterson tormented the iguana, which "was not bothering anyone and did not pose a threat to anyone." She said there was no provocation or no justification for the actions.

Palm Beach Animal Care
The iguana died as Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control was transporting it to be euthanized, according to the affidavit. (Source: Palm Beach County Government)

Under state law, people are allowed to kill iguanas, an invasive species, in a quick and humane manner. A necropsy, though, showed the iguana had a lacerated liver, broken pelvis, and internal bleeding, which were "painful and terrifying" injuries, prosecutors contend.

"The Defendant unnecessarily put himself in a position to be bit by this animal," Dorman wrote. "The State's position is that Stand Your Ground does not even apply to this case because the iguana is not a human being."

Patterson is due back in court on July 30. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted of animal cruelty.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.)

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