Florida man accuses lizard of starting fight that's landed him in court

An iguana.
An iguana. Photo credit: Getty

A Florida man charged with animal cruelty after beating an iguana to death last year has been told he can't use the state's 'stand your ground' law to defend himself. 

The man, PJ Nilaja Patterson, says the massive lizard started the fight and he had a right to fight back, CNN reports.

The incident happened on September 2. In Patterson's version of events, he saved the dog-sized iguana from getting run over by cars - but a crowd that gathered to watch frightened it, and it bit him on the arm. 

He "kicked the iguana as far as he could", his lawyers said, arguing Patterson "acted in a reasonable manner under all the circumstances because the wild iguana was first to engage with physical violence, during the encounter". 

The iguana's fatal injuries were  "painful and terrifying", a vet told the court, and it died before it could be euthanised. 

Florida law states people can use "deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony".

In a motion to dismiss Patterson's desired defence strategy, the prosecution said the law only applies if the threat comes from another person - not an animal.

"The defendant unnecessarily put himself in a position to be bit by this animal," Assistant State Attorney Alexandra Dorman wrote, claiming surveillance video showed Patterson "savagely beat, tormented, tortured, and killed" the lizard which "was not bothering anyone", the Tampa Bay Times reported.

"The state's position is that 'stand your ground' does not even apply to this case because the iguana is not a human being."

A judge agreed, saying the prosecution can go ahead. 

The law's first section, which outlines when a person can use deadly force to defend themselves, doesn't specifically state the threat has to come from a human being; but the second section, which describes what constitutes a valid threat, does say the force has to be used against a "person". 

It's actually legal to kill iguanas in Florida if it's done quickly and humanely. 

Patterson's lawyer told CNN he will "fight this case until the very end". He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.