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Charges dropped in Hernando animal services bomb threat case

BROOKSVILLE — The evidence pointed to Peter Dalessandro as the man who called Hernando County Animal Services and threatened to bomb the building and kill its employees.

Phone records showed the calls made in April came from a cellphone account in Dalessandro's name, and from an area near where the 52-year-old Riverview resident lives.

But it wasn't enough.

Assistant State Attorney Rob Lewis opted this week to drop all 11 of the charges against Dalessandro. There was not enough evidence, Lewis said, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dalessandro made the calls and not some other man using his phone.

"There's an awful lot of smoke there," Lewis said. "Do I think it was him? Absolutely. The problem is I can't prosecute based on what I think or the court of public opinion."

The calls came in on April 20, one week after animal services staff members euthanized an 8-month-old pit bull mix named Zeus, minutes after the dog had been turned over to the shelter to be put up for adoption.

Brooksville police traced the calls to Dalessandro's phone and sought a warrant for his arrest. He was charged with six felony counts of threatening to place or discharge a destructive device and five misdemeanor assault charges, and later turned himself in to Hillsborough County deputies.

An analysis by experts that compared the caller's voice to recordings of Dalessandro's voice during interviews with investigators proved inconclusive, Lewis said.

"That's a pretty big thing," said Dalessandro's attorney, Michael Butash, who praised Lewis for making the right call.

"It may upset people because of the type of charge. But just because you're arrested doesn't mean you're guilty, and a lot of people lose sight of that," Butash said.

Dalessandro's history, which include a connection to another threat case, also raised the suspicions of investigators.

Eleven years ago, a man in Burlington, Iowa, had been accused of animal cruelty, and his trial was being broadcast nationally on Court TV. Someone from Dalessandro's home, authorities say, made a series of phone calls threatening the defendant and his attorney, Michael Schillings.

Schillings taped one of the anonymous calls and presented it as evidence in the case, hoping to have the TV cameras removed from the courtroom.

The suspect, investigators say, then began making harassing calls to the Burlington Police Department. Hernando County Sheriff's Office detectives traced the call to the home where Dalessandro lived at the time, on Florian Way in Spring Hill. No one was ever charged with a crime.

In 1999, Dalessandro led an animal rights demonstration outside the Dade City police station. He and four others picketed the station over the Police Department's failure to arrest a suspect in a kitten-killing case.

Three years later, the then-social worker offered a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person who killed a cat and its six kittens.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@tampabay.com.

Charges dropped in Hernando animal services bomb threat case 07/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 19, 2012 7:52pm]
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