Scroll down for the article as prepared for the next issue of Endangered Species & Wetlands Report (ESWR.com)
A Naples, Fla., man received 60 days of home confinement and three years’ probation, and will have to pay fines totaling $10,000, including a community service payment of $5,000, for killing an endangered Florida panther. (Judgment) (Plea agreement)
When he finishes home confinement, Todd Alan Benfield will spend 15 weekends in a row (i.e., 30 days) in “intermittent incarceration” at the Collier County Jail.
He pled guilty this spring to having killed the cat two and a half years earlier, using a compound bow and a 3-blade broadhead-tipped arrow. The day after shooting it (Oct. 9, 2009), “Benfield and an associate moved the panther into the Woodland Grade area, in an attempt to conceal the animal,” according to the Justice Department:
According to court documents, on October 8, 2009, Benfield was bow hunting along Woodland Grade, in the Golden Gate Estates area of Collier County. On that day, he used a tree stand to hunt for deer. From his tree stand, Benfield knowingly shot and killed a Florida Panther with his compound bow and a 3-blade broadhead-tipped arrow. The following day, Benfield and an associate moved the panther into the Woodland Grade area, in an attempt to conceal the animal. On October 10, 2009, Benfield removed his tree stand from the area in an effort to conceal the fact that he had killed the panther. On the same date, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer located the dead panther in a section of thick vegetation, in the Woodland Grade area. The officer determined that the dead panther had been dragged approximately 50 yards.
Story as prepared for ESWR
By Steve Davies
A Naples, Fla., man who killed a Florida panther with a crossbow was sentenced to 60 days of home confinement and ordered to pay a fine of $5,000 and a community service payment of $5,000.
Todd Alan Benfield also received three years of probation and must perform 200 hours of community service at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge or the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
In addition, Benfield must issue a public apology to be published in the Naples Daily News, and will not be allowed to hunt while on probation. He must take a hunter safety course and has been ordered to forfeit the compound bow, arrows, ladder tree stand, and accessories he used to shoot the panther, listed as an endangered species.
Benfield pled guilty on May 18. In a statement attached to the plea agreement, he apologized and said he shot the panther because he thought it “was competing and interfering with my hunting. I was wrong to have shot and killed a Florida panther.”
“I apologize to my local and national community and friends for my illegal activity and the negative [publicity that it may have brought to hunting. Please remember that local, state and federal wildlife officials are aggressive and on the lookout for these types of criminal violations. Learn from my mistake. Don’t repeat them.”
When confronted initially by Fish and Wildlife Service and FWC investigators, Benfield denied he had anything to do with the panther’s death. Shortly afterwards, however, law enforcement officials turned up evidence of the crime in his home and vehicle.
The Florida Wildlife Federation said the penalty should have been more severe. FWF President Manley Fuller said Benfield should have received the maximum fine called for in the Endangered Species Act, $100,000, and a lifetime revocation his hunting license.
On Oct. 8, 2009, Benfield was hunting deer from a tree stand in the Golden Gate Estates area of Collier County when he saw the panther. The next day, he and his associate moved it, and the day after that, he went back and removed his tree stand “in an effort to conceal the fact that he had killed the panther,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Florida.
The same day Benfield removed the tree stand, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer “located the dead panther in a section of thick vegetation, in the Woodland Grade area. The officer determined that the dead panther had been dragged approximately 50 yards.”