TAMPA — Giovanni Estrada stood before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet with his head bowed Wednesday as a prosecutor made him recount what he did last summer.
The questions from Assistant State Attorney Elisabeth Glance were pointed and direct: Did he shoot a cat more than 30 times with a BB gun? Did he lock the cat in an animal carrier? Did he throw the carrier with the animal inside into McKay Bay? Did he intend to kill the cat?
His answer to each question was simple:
Over objections from defense attorney Jenny Thomas, Judge Sleet allowed the questioning, later explaining that Estrada needed to be "publicly humiliated" for what he had done.
Then he sentenced Estrada to 364 days in jail for animal cruelty. After that, Estrada must complete a year of community control, three years of probation, 250 hours of community service and attend psychological testing and therapy.
"I have embarrassed my family and myself and I'm ashamed of that," Estrada said at the hearing. "I feel sorry for what I did. It's not something I will ever do again. The best I can do is learn from it and move forward."
Estrada, 20, pleaded guilty earlier this year for his role in the cat's torture.
The cat, a female first known as Mittens and then Lovey upon rescue, was found Sept. 1 by a passer-by inside an animal carrier that had been dumped in the bay. The carrier was decorated with markings that read "Kitty Penitentiary," "Inmate Mittens," and "Cell 666."
A Hillsborough Animal Services investigation led to Estrada, who was arrested about two weeks later.
When Glance asked at the hearing how Estrada can justify his actions as a mistake, he explained that he felt bad about what he had done. He tried to retrieve the cat after throwing her in the water, he said, but the seawall was too high. He later saw coverage of the cat's rescue on the news.
"I … I was a wreck," he said. "I'm not that kind of person. I don't know what happened to me."
Estrada's friend Mildred "Missy" Krack owned the cat. Estrada sometimes stayed at Krack's house and helped her care for the animal, Estrada's attorney said.
Krack later said in court that Estrada shot the cat and left her to drown because he was angry she had eaten his pet crawfish.
"I still find it odd that you are so mad about a cat eating a crawfish," Sleet said. "The crawfish is cat food. The cat is doing what its instinct tells it to do."
Estrada had faced up to five years in prison. Prosecutors requested he serve three. A county court judge earlier barred both Estrada and Krack from ever again owning animals.
Seventeen members of Estrada's family attended the sentencing. Four testified about his character, noting that he had never been in trouble before, had graduated from high school and had a job.
"The media has tried to make him look like some kind of monster, but he isn't," said Maria Pimentel, who has known Estrada since he was a child and said she was like his "second mother."
"He has expressed to me how much he wishes this was just a dream and he could wake up from it. I think the question in everybody's mind is, 'Has he learned from this?' and I believe he has."
Through a Spanish translator, Pedro Estrada described his son as a good kid and hard worker who made a mistake.
"He's a kid. He's a big kid, but he's a kid," he said. "He is very remorseful of what he has done."
Sleet said there was not enough evidence to suggest that Estrada represents a danger to the public. Nevertheless, he still needed to be punished.
"You tortured a caged animal," Sleet said. "You tortured an animal that was totally defenseless."
As the judge handed down the sentence, a member of Estrada's family gasped. The judge cautioned the courtroom attendees not to make any expressions of emotion during the proceedings.
Estrada was silent as a bailiff handcuffed him and led him out of the courtroom. Behind him, some family members wept.
Dan Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3321.