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Lawyer cleared in opossum case

To Manuel Machin, the opossum he shot was a slobbering, snarling, fence-scaling, child-threatening, dog-attacking marauder that needed killing.

To the Hillsborough state attorney's office, the shooting was a case of animal cruelty and reckless public endangerment by a man who fired a .22-caliber rifle in a residential neighborhood.

To County Judge Daniel Perry, it wasn't much of anything.

At the end of a bizarre trial, Perry issued a directed verdict Thursday acquitting Machin of shooting a firearm within city limits. The ruling came on the heels of his decision Tuesday to dismiss an animal cruelty charge against Machin. Both charges stemmed from an incident in which he shot a possum in a neighbor's yard on April 23.

"I congratulate Judge Perry for having the courage to do what was right," said a jubilant Machin as he strode from the courthouse surrounded by his family. "I'm very, very delighted that justice prevailed."

The judge said the state did not successfully rebut the evidence entered by Machin showing he was acting in defense of people and property when he shot the possum.

Machin, a defense attorney, characterized the case as "invidious prosecution" at the direction of State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III.

Machin says he was targeted by prosecutors because of his testimony in a 1991 corruption case involving then-judge, now State Attorney Coe.

Machin told authorities he had been approached by another lawyer who told him that Coe and a prosecutor were involved in case-fixing. Although Coe was never charged with any crime, Machin says Coe's office filed the misdemeanor charges against him in retaliation for the role he played in the corruption case.

Paul Duval Johnson, chief of misdemeanor and juvenile prosecution for the state attorney's office said the case was argued in good faith.

"Machin's allegations make no sense," he said. "Judge Coe could not have cared less about this. He told me, "Just do the right thing,' " Johnson said.

"We disagree with it, but we accept the judge's ruling."

In court Thursday, under questioning by lawyer Danny Castillo, Machin testified about being at home on a quiet Saturday afternoon in April and suddenly hearing his 6-year-old son, Marcus, scream.

Machin said he ran from his home to his side yard where he saw his son struggling with Pepper, the family's miniature Schnauzer, as it tried to get at an aggressive possum who wasn't backing up.

After removing son and dog from harm's way, Machin trailed the offending animal to a neighbor's yard. The neighbor provided the rifle Machin used to shoot the critter.

Machin said he was not happy with "a mountain being made out of a molehill."

He said he will next seek to recover about $8,000 in legal expenses he spent on the case.

"By this time Harry should know I don't play possum," he said.