The two fishermen thought they had a whopper on the end of the line. It was a late June evening at Lady Bird Lake, a reservoir in Austin, Texas, when 55-year-old Terry Wayne Washington and a friend began reeling in the hefty catch.
Along the shore, passersby stopped to watch the struggle. But there was no giant fish bending the pole in half. The men had snagged a large snapping turtle. When it was weighed later, the turtle tipped the scale at 40 pounds.
With the claw end of a hammer, Washington’s companion hooked the shell to pull the animal on land. The turtles had been bothering the two all day, the fisherman later told police, as they were chasing fish away. Onlookers said it appeared as if he wanted to free the turtle.
But then Washington took the hammer.
Once the turtle was on shore, according to witnesses, the spectacle took a sickening turn.
A “blood trail from the water’s edge all the way to the turtle, which was approximately 75 feet away” was left at the scene, according to a police affidavit obtained by the Dallas Morning News.
A jogger named Geoffrey Frank saw the blood, and the action that drew it. In a graphic video he posted to Facebook, it is possible to hear the meaty crack of the hammer against the turtle shell over Frank’s horrified murmurs of protest.
Frank turned a corner on the trail that runs near Lady Bird Lake to see, as he told Austin’s KXAN-TV, Washington swing the tool down upon the turtle’s shell. On his second loop, the turtle was dead.
It was “sick,” Frank said to KXAN. He watched as the man “smashed it to death with a hammer.”
The animal was still hooked with the fishing line. Washington struck the animal at least 10 times, police told Fox 7, caving in its skull. While witnesses called for him to let the turtle be, according to Frank’s account Washington allegedly dragged the turtle carcass away from shore, left the body and took off in his car.
Frank’s Facebook footage tipped off authorities about the crime. Washington confessed to killing the animal two days later, turning himself in at Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Facility. On July 26, just over a month after the turtle slaying, authorities charged Washington with cruelty to a non-livestock animal. He was also charged with two misdemeanors related to killing wildlife.
Washington said that he was simply protecting himself. The reptile had lunged at him, he said, according to the affidavit. He acknowledged to police he had made no effort to cut the line or unhook the turtle. Police countered that the witness accounts dispute the claims of self-defense and a fast death for the turtle.
As the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department told the Midland Reporter-Telegram, only licensed hunters can catch turtles in Texas. It is also possible he will be fined for illegaly dumping dead wildlife. The charge of animal cruelty is a state jail felony under the Texas penal code. Washington’s bond was set at $5,000.
The reaction to his Facebook video astonished Frank. “The city came together to bring justice to a turtle,” he told the Midland-Reporter Telegram, “when many would have just walked by and said ‘Oh, it’s just an animal.'”