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Man charged with beating cat to death

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 28, 2002

The smells of dinner draw feline freeloaders to the back deck of the Bayport Inn, whose customers often leave scrumptious scraps. Yet, one unsuspecting furry diner met a violent death Friday night. His last meal was buffalo wings.

Martin P. Stevens, 43, of 4279 Carol Court, Hernando Beach, was arrested late Friday night at his home and charged with cruelty to animals.

Deputy Jeff Kraft of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office said Stevens, while dining at the Bayport Inn, lured a white and tan cat with black stripes close to the restaurant's deck by throwing it pieces of chicken he had ordered. When the feral cat crept close enough, he grabbed it, swung it around by its tail and slammed it into the concrete patio, according to reports.

Stevens' 14-year-old nephew said his uncle had intended to feed the cat to a five-foot alligator, which was lurking in a canal near the back of the Bayport Inn, 4835 Cortez Boulevard, reports said.

After the attack, the cat shook violently and then crawled underneath the Bayport Inn's wooden deck, witnesses told police. Kraft found its body curled up beneath the deck, he said. The cat looked to be three or four months old and about eight to 10 pounds, said Chad Lavigne of Spring Hill, who was riding along with Kraft on Friday night.

"I thought it was pretty sick, to be honest with you," Lavigne said.

Lavigne said six or seven cats were hanging around the back deck of the restaurant when he arrived. An alligator was swimming nearby, as it does throughout the year, restaurant staff told him.

Stevens' nephew told police the incident started not long after somebody yelled the alligator had returned around 6 p.m. Friday night. Stevens turned to his nephew and 4-year-old son and said, "let's feed a cat to the gator," Kraft said.

Then Stevens' nephew and son tried to attract the alligator to land by throwing it french fries, while Stevens lured the cat toward the restaurant, police said.

Some restaurant patrons had no idea the incident had occurred. Lavigne said his parents had been eating there at the time did not hear the commotion.

Both the Bayport Inn restaurant manager and Stevens' family did not return calls for comment.

Stevens told police he did not intend to kill the cat and was acting in self-defense because the cat had scratched his face, the police report said. He said he kicked the cat once and threw it under the deck.

Stevens is being held at the Hernando County Jail. Bail was set at $2,000.

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