Roberto Hernandez is only 19 years old, and already charged with one of the most heinous crimes of animal cruelty on record in the United States.
In 2016 surveillance video captured Hernandez, then only 17, as he set fire to a caged cat and fed it to his dogs. Nearby, neighbors watched Hernandez “dousing a live cat with some sort of combustible liquid,” a Miami-Dade arrest report maintains.
Then, Hernandez grabbed a box of matches and began lighting them and throwing them at the cat.
The cat burst into flames and started hopping around feverishly, “in extreme pain and suffering seeking to escape while burning alive,” the arrest report said.
“He was very entertained burning the cat,” Marlene Gonzalez, who lives nearby and recorded the incident on a security camera.
“The defendant doesn’t stop there,” wrote Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Nicole Garcia wrote. “He is seen opening the cage, grabbing the burned animal and throwing it to his pit bulls in order to finish killing the animal or to dispose of its remains.”
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Because Hernandez was a minor when the crime occurred, little has been revealed about the case until now. Due to the nature of the charges and the incriminating evidence available to prosecutors, the Miami Herald reports, Hernandez’s defense team may angle for a guilty plea right from the start.
Babelin Rodriguez, Hernandez’ grandmother, contends that the animal in the cage was actually a raccoon that had been biting the legs of people in the neighborhood.
“All he would see in his head is that animal is going to get loose,” Rodriguez told NBC 6 Miami. “It’s going to bite the dogs. The raccoon is going to bite the dogs and him, so that’s the first instinct he had.”
Whether or not the animal was a cat or a raccoon, Florida animal cruelty laws apply to any living creature who is caused “unjustifiable pain and suffering.”
Hernandez’ upbringing has been brought up by defense attorneys who argued that being growing up with an abusive father, and being forced to drop out of school to work on a family farm shortened his development, and led him astray.
The defense team claimed that Hernandez’ job on the farm was primarily taking care of egg-laying chickens, though investigators also found a cockfighting arena and rooster cages there.
“Even if he was unaware of the statute criminalizing animal cruelty, it should be instinctively known to the average man of his age that burning an animal alive is wrong,” Garcia wrote. “It appears he has no regard to the pain and suffering of animals.”
Prosecutors in the case have requested that Hernandez spend at least 364 years in jail, followed by five years on probation. The next hearing is scheduled for March 14.
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