Crime

Iguana shooter charged with weapon offense

The Marathon man who fired at least one shot to kill an iguana perched on his oceanfront property's seawall was arrested Monday on a misdemeanor charge of shooting a gun in public.

Jeffrey Spencer Bennett, 73, is accused of firing his .22-caliber rifle at the iguana the morning of Jan. 21. Witnesses, including a vacationing couple who thought they were coming under fire while standing on a resort dock, said they heard two gun shots.

Monroe County Sheriff's Office Lt. David Carey wrote in his Feb. 2 arrest report that the bullets traveled across the water, "passing two properties and [striking] a dock where two people were standing on the adjacent property."

If convicted, Bennett could serve up to a year in prison and have to pay a $1,000 fine. The Marathon gynecologist declined to comment, but when briefly interviewed for a story on the incident last month, Bennett said it was "impossible" for the single shot he said he fired into the iguana to travel across the water to the Pines and Palms Resort. 

Bennett's four-acre property is at mile marker 80.4 on the Old Highway in Islamorada. The Pines and Palms is just two lots to the south. That's where Ruth and Robert Wells, vacationing from Waxhaw, N.C., were staying with their children. The Wells said they heard two shots, with one hitting the dock on which they were standing, around 10 a.m. They rushed to the resort's beach to retrieve their children, then ran inside the lobby.

Another witness, retired Washington, D.C., policeman John Monno, who was also staying at the Pines and Palms, told investigators that he heard "a gun shot and a whizzing noise, then a second shot and heard a noise as a projectile hit the dock. That's when he said he saw the Wells running for their lives.

"Mr. Monno indicated he saw a male and a female run from the dock yelling, 'Someone is shooting at us,' " Carey wrote in his report.

Monno told police that after hearing the second shot, he looked to the north of the resort property and saw a man standing next to the seawall on Bennett's property.

Bennett told responding police he shot the iguana, but that he was careful when aiming that there was no one standing in his line of fire. He is an avid hunter who is very cautious when handling firearms, he told police. He turned over the rifle, which can carry up to 17 rounds but had only one bullet in the chamber, Carey wrote.

A detective walking the property reported seeing blood on Bennett's dock and said the location of the blood "was consistent with the diagonal angle of where the witness heard the pops and saw something hit the dock of the resort."

Monroe County State Attorney Catherine Vogel said her office decided to file charges against Bennett because the consequences of shooting a gun near a densely populated area could have been far worse than a dead iguana.

"We all understand what pests iguanas are. Clearly, they're an invasive species," Vogel said Tuesday. "However, illegally discharging a weapon is a dangerous practice and not to be encouraged. We need to find a better way to deal with the iguana issue. For goodness sake, don't shoot them."

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