Man Accused of Beating, Torturing Iguana Will Stand Trial Despite Using 'Stand Your Ground' Defense

A Florida man is standing trial on a felony animal cruelty charge for beating an iguana to death because it bit him on the arm, after a judge rejected his "stand your ground" defense.

PJ Nilaja Patterson, 43, said the iguana attacked him, biting him on the arm, and had used deadly force in retaliation. Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffery Dana Gillen recently denied the unusual defense in a ruling, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

Patterson's public defender, Frank Vasconcelos, wrote the iguana was the aggressor when it "leaned forward with its mouth wide open and showing its sharp teeth, in a threatening manner" before attacking Patterson. In retaliation, Patterson "kicked the iguana as far as he could," according to Vasconcelos.

"Patterson believed that the iguana could have injected poison in him and thus he rushed to incapacitate the iguana the best way he could in order to preserve its antidote," the public defender wrote.

Iguanas are not poisonous creatures and typically run when humans approach, the Associated Press reported. Additionally, though iguanas produce venom, the venom is harmless to humans.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Florida iguana in a tree
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 31: An iguana sits in a tree at the Wakodahatchee Wetlands on March 31, 2021 in Delray Beach, Florida. Patterson's "stand your ground" defense against an iguana was recently rejected by a judge. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The "stand your ground" law allows a person who is under attack and reasonably fears death or great bodily harm to use deadly force, even if they could retreat to safety. It has been used in several high-profile cases since it was adopted 16 years ago, but this might be the first time the recipient of deadly force was an animal.

Prosecutors say Patterson "savagely beat, tormented, tortured, and killed" the 3-foot (1-meter) iguana in a half-hour attack caught on surveillance video. Prosecutor Alexandra Dorman said that "at no time was the iguana posing any real threat" to Patterson last September and he "was not justified in his actions when he kicked this defenseless animal at least 17 times causing its death."

Animal control officials said Patterson tormented the animal, which is why it bit him on the arm, causing a wound that required 22 staples to close. 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.

"Any force used by Patterson in order to further avoid great bodily harm or even death was reasonably justified," Vasconcelos wrote.

Judge Gillen rejected that argument. Patterson could get up to five years in prison if convicted.

Florida iguana
MIAMI, FL - MARCH 13: An iguana is seen as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission continues its efforts to try and control the invasive species on March 13, 2018 in Miami, Florida. The commission has teams of people that are trying to eliminate the reptiles by killing them, which would prevent them from eating native plants and wildlife as well as disturbing the natural Florida habitat that they are living in. Florida residents are allowed to kill iguanas in a quick and humane manner. Joe Raedle/Getty Images