3 men plead not guilty in connection to viral shark-dragging video

It's a not guilty plea for three men charged in connection to the shark dragging video off the coast of Sarasota last summer.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Three people charged in connection to last summer's disturbing shark-dragging video that went viral formally plead not guilty.

The plea was entered by their attorney as three men waived their right to appear in court Wednesday, Jan. 10, for arraignment.

The video showed the shark tied by a rope around its tail, dragged backward by a speeding boat possibly traveling at 30 mph. At that speed, it was seen crashing in and out of the water; the violent act sparked outrage online and among animal experts.

“It’s suffocating, beaten on the waves  … (the) last moments of its life complete torture,” says Dr. Robert Hueter, Mote Marine’s director of the Center for Shark Research. "They don’t deserve the right to fish.”

Below are the suspects and the charges they face:

Robert Lee Benac, 28, of Bradenton
--Two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty (third-degree felony)
--One misdemeanor count of illegal method of take – Shark (second-degree misdemeanor)

Spencer Heintz, 23, of Palmetto
--Two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty (third-degree felony)

Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto
--Two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty (third-degree felony).
--One misdemeanor count of illegal method of take – Shark (second-degree misdemeanor)

If convicted, third-degree felonies are punishable up to 5 years in jail, 5 years probation, and a $5,000 fine. Second-degree misdemeanors are punishable up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

The three men last month bonded out of jail. Another court appearance is set for March 6.

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