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    Cleared of cruelty, DJ vows revenge

    The shock jock, acquitted in the slaughter of a boar, says the state attorney will pay on election day.

    By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 1, 2002


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    TAMPA -- Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, the radio shock jock who presided over the on-air slaughter of a wild boar, was acquitted Thursday of animal cruelty charges, along with his producer and two listeners.

    Soon after sailing out of the Hillsborough County Courthouse, Clem was plotting revenge against State Attorney Mark Ober.

    "When you take a shot at the king, you better kill him. And they didn't kill me," said Clem, 35, who promised to launch a voter registration drive to oust Ober. "I think they underestimated who they were screwing with. I'm not trying to be cocky, but when election comes around, Mr. Ober will know who he screwed with."

    photo
    [Times photo: Ken Helle]
    Bubba the Love Sponge Clem of WXTB-97.9 FM (98 Rock) reacts to his acquittal Thursday in the Hillsborough County Courthouse.
    It took the jury less than an hour to acquit the defendants. The jury foreman said there simply wasn't enough evidence to convict.

    The state's case consisted of playing the audiotape of Clem's broadcast and a videotape of the castration and slaughter. While the audiotape suggested the hog's teeth were broken and its snout bloodied before it was killed, there was no visual evidence of how it happened.

    "If my dog were in that cage, we would have had a different decision," said jury foreman Donald Currie, 35, a non-hunter who works for Verizon. "I think it would have been nice if there had been more evidence presented."

    Others disagreed.

    "I'm numb," said Barbara Baker, 53, the president of Pillar Pigs, a Tampa Bay pot-bellied pig club, who came to root for Clem's conviction. "It was crystal-clear this animal went through hell before it was castrated."

    The unusual case started last February when a Myakka City hunter named Paul Lauterberg hauled a boar he had trapped to the parking lot of WXTB-97.9 FM (98 Rock), where Clem was hosting a "Road Kill Barbecue."

    Lauterberg hoped Clem would reward his efforts with an anniversary present for his wife. He castrated the hog and slit its throat while Clem and his producer, Brent Hatley, joked about it on the air and a listener, Daniel Brooks, helped hold it down.

    All could have faced five years in prison if convicted of felony animal cruelty.

    Lauterberg left the courthouse Thursday with tears in his eyes.

    "I was just praying to God that He'd send me home," he said. "And He did. I just want to go home now."

    During the three-day trial, prosecutor Darrell D. Dirks contended that "Andy the feral hog" suffered a needlessly cruel death. He said the animal was poked and prodded by a crowd over the course of several hours and exploited as a mere "prop" in a ratings grab by Clem.

    But a team of defense lawyers ridiculed the state's case as a lot of mumbo-jumbo about "a pig's feelings."

    "They'll have you believe that Bubba the Love Sponge is the Big Bad Wolf," defense attorney J. Kevin Hayslett told the jury. "They want you to see this as a Walt Disney animal that was somehow murdered."

    Deriding the prosecutor's habit of referring to the hog by name -- a name it possessed for only 45 minutes before its death -- Hayslett said: "Please tell me this is not about the psyche of a pig."

    Clear Channel Communications, which owns 98 Rock, suspended Clem for several weeks after the hog incident. But it paid for what he called "a million-dollar defense," which included a high-powered jury consultant.

    The lawyers on Team Clem -- a formidable wall of power suits that filled two tables -- brought contrasting styles to the courtroom.

    There was flinty veteran Norman Cannella Sr., who began his closing argument by thanking all six jurors by name and reminded them in his grim drawl that the case was about the law, not "the tormentation of an animal."

    And there was the manic free-associating of Hayslett, who said of the prosecution: "They've run this pig down the runway, and it's not going to fly."

    Hatley, Clem's 30-year-old producer, called the verdict a victory for the First Amendment. But he said he is through with animal stunts.

    "I've learned there's ways to incite people, and ways not to," he said.

    Since the hog incident, Hatley said, Clem's morning show has vaulted from second to first place in the coveted demographic of listeners 25 to 54 years old. The show now has nearly twice as many listeners in that category.

    Tom Taylor, editor of M Street Daily, a radio industry publication, said a guilty verdict might have had "a chilling effect" on morning DJs who practice edgy stunts. But he said Clem's acquittal will only amplify his image.

    "People will be incorporating this into their own legends of Bubba, whether they like him or not," Taylor said. "It's about getting attention. Once again Bubba has gotten attention, and the legend grows."

    State Attorney Ober could not be reached for comment.

    -- Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Christopher Goffard can be reached at 226-3337 or goffard@sptimes.com.

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