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A Thanksgiving Mystery

My favorite Thanksgiving song. Have a happy one.

Now quickly onto a topic much more suited for Halloween than Thanksgiving -- the cat killings case.

Let's start with the numbers. There were 33 cats killed in the Cutler Bay area of Miami in a short period of time back in the summer of 2009. Police and prosecutors determined that 19 of those cats were killed by a human being. Eight of those corpses were preserved as evidence in the case against Tyler Weinman, who was 18 when he was arrested on charges he killed those 19 cats.

A defense expert found puncture wounds consistent with animal bites on all eight of the dead cats. State experts agreed, the case was dropped, and Weinman -- who has been mercilessly derided nationally in the media and Internet as a serial cat killer -- was released. 

The Miami-Dade Police Department is standing by its conclusion that Weinman killed the cats while Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Rundle is portraying the outcome as a victory for science that has proven Weinman innocent.

Make no mistake, the case against Weinman was very shaky, based on things like the fact that he seemed "overenthusiastic and scary" when he spoke of the cat killings during interviews with police. After they found marijuana in his car, police questioned the then-17-year-old, and he vividly described dissecting cats in school, including the sound their skin makes when it is torn. 

Might make a good scene in a movie, but it

proved nothing. Detectives put a GPS on his car and found that he was in the area where some of the cats were later killed. Again, nothing proven. It was a shaky case that was going to get national attention. I can understand why Rundle wanted to get rid of it. I don't think any jury would have convicted.

You must remember that this was one of the biggest stories going in South Florida during the summer of 2009. The Herald remarked in a couple of stories about Weinman "smirking" in his mug shot and in court. People wanted Weinman's head -- hundreds of internet commenters of the cat-loving kind called for the death penalty. Think Weinman hasn't suffered incredible humiliation? Then just Google his name and start reading. Check out tylerweinman.com to get an idea. The kid has almost literally lost his name forever.

Understand that these killings had horrified the neighborhood and much of South Florida. Because of a lack of blood at some of the gruesome scenes, some of the cats were believed to have been caught, killed off-site, and then returned to be propped up like trophies on their owners' lawns. Some were reportedly gutted, we were told; some had crushed heads; and some had apparently been sliced up by a sharp instrument. 

Just what animal did this? A chupacabra? The fact that the killings stopped after the arrest is interesting. And I don't mention that to reflect any more suspicion on Weinman. When you think about it, the entire story is almost beyond comprehension. How could an animal go on a killing rampage like that and conveniently end it at the time of arrest? For that matter, how could a human pull it off? Seems to me that most cats don't want to be caught by strangers; and have you ever tried to catch an uncooperative cat? To kill 19 cats in a very short period of time -- that's a dedicated serial cat killer right there.

One part of the case against Weinman was that he had catnip in his room even though he didn't own any cats. The idea, of course, was that he lured the cats to their doom with it. Another piece of evidence was that he allegedly had a sharp instrument -- that could have been used in the killings -- hidden in a wall in his room.

Weinman himself says that he was the victim of a "witch hunt" and that because of the sensational nature of the case, police just wanted a "warm body" to feed to the public. And he may be right. Was this a case of mass hysteria? Understand that at about the same time, oddly, there was a small spate of cat killings in Lauderhill. Fourteen cats were killed, but it was quickly determined that dogs had killed them. Could it have been that a dog wreaked the havoc in Cutler Bay? Possibly. My dog can use her back teeth to cut like a knife, and you'd swear looking at what she'd cut, say a leash cord, that it was cut by a cutting instrument, not dog's teeth.

Questions about this bizarre case are far from answered. We may have lost a scapegoat, but we're left with a mystery.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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