Case Snapshot
Case ID: 4840
Classification: Burning - Fire or Fireworks
Animal: opossum
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Sunday, Jun 19, 2005

County: Polk

Disposition: Convicted
Case Images: 2 files available

Defendants/Suspects:
» Anthony Robert Herrington
» David Lee Bendickson
» Kevin Patrick Calderon

Case Updates: 5 update(s) available

A videotape of Webster County teenagers who doused live opossums with lighter fluid and set them on fire generated no laughs at the humor Web site where the youths submitted it, or from the animal protection authorities who contacted police.

Josh Colvin, cruelty intervention coordinator for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, called the videotape "the worst animal torture I've ever seen."

The teens, whose names and hometowns were not available, created the video and sent it to the popular entertainment Web site eBaumsworld.com, which features a variety of humorous video clips, stories and games. Web site administrators who viewed the video on June 20 referred the video, e-mail correspondence and Internet service provider information to a senior caseworker from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who contacted the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. Colvin said Webster County authorities were investigating, but sheriff's officials could not be reached for comment.

Colvin, who saw the videotape on June 19, described two young men pouring lighter fluid on the opossums and setting them on fire.

"It shows the possums walking around, clearly just engulfed with flames," he said. "They do this to two possums while laughing hysterically in the background."

Colvin said he hopes the men involved are charged under an animal torture law passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2000. The law makes animal torture an aggravated misdemeanor with counseling required on first offense, and a felony on second offense, punishable by a five-year prison term.

Neil Bauman, executive vice president of Rochester, New York-based eBaumsworld.com, called the video "disturbing."

"We don't mind a little edgy humor, but this was too over the edge for eBaumsworld," Bauman said.

The 13 staff members at the Web site sift through an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 e-mails a day, many of them with video content, Bauman said. While a number of the videos are deleted, this was the first referred to authorities.

"If they traced it back to the right guys, good," Bauman said. "I don't expect them to have their lives ruined, but they need a wake-up call because there are dangerous minds that get a kick out of this."

Colvin said that animal neglect is far more common than abuse.

"That opossum's feeling the same pain as a dog or a cat would feel, whether it's considered a nuisance animal or wildlife," he said. "That's the worst part. They're actually setting an animal on fire. You don't think somebody would consider that a joke or fun."


Case Updates

Three men who admitted to setting opossums on fire and videotaping the act will spend 30 days in jail.

The Fort Dodge roommates, Anthony Herrington, 20, David Bendickson, 19, and Kevin Calderon, 20, each pleaded guilty to two counts of animal torture, an aggravated misdemeanor, Oct. 31. They faced up to four years in prison on the charges.

The three were sentenced in Webster County Associate District Court Wednesday afternoon. Each was given a one-year jail sentence with all but 30 days suspended, a $1,000 fine with $500 suspended and ordered to serve two years of probation. They were also ordered to serve 80 hours of community service.

All three expressed sorrow and shame over the incident as they read from written statements before being sentenced.

''We made a horrible decision that night,'' Herrington said. ''Never before have I harmed a single animal.''

''The hardest part is knowing my parents were ashamed of me,'' Calderon said. ''I'm willing to accept the responsibility and punishment.''

Prosecutors began the proceeding by showing the tape to the court.

The tape shows them burning the live animals in rural Webster County sometime in May or June. It was submitted to a humor Web site, eBaumsworld.com. Web site administrators turned the tape over to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who then passed it on to authorities.

Herrington wiped tears from his face as it played. The men could be heard on the audio laughing and making comments as each lighter fluid-soaked creature caught fire when hit with a lit match.

''That smells rather displeasing,'' one of the defendants could be heard saying on the tape.

''Where you going, marsupial?'' one said as a burning opossum ran into some brush.

People viewing the tape in the courtroom gasped as each incident unfolded.

''The hardest thing is looking at the video and hearing my voice,'' Bendickson said.

Prosecuting attorneys said the men's remorse was insincere and didn't surface until they were facing prosecution.

''They're upset because they want you to use that in your sentence,'' said Assistant Webster County Attorney Ricki Osborn.

Osborn asked that the three serve time in prison for their crimes.

''Not only did they do this crime, but they went out and got another opossum and did it again. ... They laughed as they watched it fight for its life.''

Two of the mens' fathers, a former professor and investigators testified at the sentencing hearing. Family and friends of the three watched from the back of the courtroom.

''I know the 19 years of good decisions David made,'' said Brad Bendickson, David Bendickson's father.

Associate District Court Judge Frederick Breen said the disturbing nature of the crime, weighed against the defendants' good academic and criminal records, made deciding on a sentence difficult. He described the tape as ''depraved'' and ''perverted.''

''As the flames died down you could see the silhouette of the animal ... then the animal is clubbed,'' Breen said describing the video. "After viewing the video ... it took me a long time to go to bed comfortable.''

''This exhibition of sadism should worry the defendants about their own character,'' he said. He said the act of taping the torture ''shows a sense of pride and fulfillment'' in their actions.

Iowa law requires anyone found guilty of animal torture to submit to psychiatric evaluation. Herrington and Calderon both completed theirs. Bendickson's is incomplete. Breen said the submitted evaluations didn't show the men were likely to commit other, similar offenses.

Breen ordered all three to serve the 30 days within the next month.

''I don't think I'm going to be more forgiving than that,'' he said. The sentence would force them to choose between spending Christmas away from their families or missing the beginning of the spring semester at Iowa Central Community College where they're enrolled.

Breen ordered each man to serve the 80 hours of community service at an animal shelter or pound per Iowa law.
Source: The Messenger - Dec 8, 2005
Update posted on Dec 8, 2005 - 5:39PM 
David Bendickson, who has admitted burning opossums, says he grew up loving animals and was around turtles, dogs, cats and birds. A student at Iowa Central Community College , he also spent time working at a calf research facility.

"I'm not a cruel person," he said Tuesday.

On Oct. 24, Bendickson pleaded guilty of helping others douse two opossums with lighter fluid and set them on fire. The animal torture was videotaped and sent to a Web site, which reported the incident.

In his first public comments since he was charged with animal torture, Bendickson , 19, said he thinks about what he did every day. "This action doesn't define my character," he said Tuesday. "I really am truly sorry for the animals I've included in my actions. All three of us would say the same thing."

Two other men, Anthony Herrington, 20, and Kevin Calderon, 20, have also pleaded guilty in the incident. Both of their attorneys have said the men would not comment on the case.

Bendickson said the men decided to light the animals on fire in the wee hours of June 1. He said he was not drinking alcohol at the time.

"Everything that happened together was a terrible decision," he said.

Bendickson pleaded guilty of two counts of animal torture, an aggravated misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison, plus fines.

Most states have felony provisions in their animal-cruelty statutes, but Iowa does not.

Sentencing for the three men in the opossum case is scheduled for Dec. 7 in Fort Dodge.

Bendickson called the burning "a crazy idea."

Derek Johnson, Bendickson's attorney, said that one of the men came up with the idea and that no one objected to it.

"I'm sorry for what I did," Bendickson said Tuesday. "I'm not sorry for getting caught. There's not an hour that goes by I don't think about what's happening."

Martin Mersereau, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said he's skeptical of the apology. "It's hard to believe he's suddenly recovered his soul," he said. "His remorse doesn't help the animals recover from his deliberate and methodical sadism."

Bendickson and his family have been the subject of harassment, Johnson said. The remarks aren't warranted, said Bendickson's mother, Kim.

"For people to be able say he's the next child killer or elder killer is to to me as evil as the act that David did," she said. "They are going off one incident. . . . He has accepted responsibility. To me, he's facing it like a man."
Source: Des Moines Register - Nov 2, 2005
Update posted on Nov 2, 2005 - 4:57PM 
One of the Fort Dodge men accused of animal torture for participating in a video where opossums are set on fire has pleaded guilty. Meanwhile, investigators in the case are asking the public to stop harassing the defendants.

David Bendickson pleaded guilty on Monday, Oct 24 of animal torture, an aggravated misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison plus fines.

Fort Dodge residents Anthony Herrington, 20, Kevin Calderon, 20, and Bendickson, 19, were arrested June 29 on animal torture charges, said Assistant Webster County Attorney Jon Beaty. The trial was scheduled for Tuesday, but wasn't held, he said.

The Fort Dodge Messenger reported that the trial was canceled after attorneys reached an agreement. A sentencing hearing was tentatively scheduled for Monday.

Webster County Sheriff's Detective Kevin Kruse said the defendants have been cooperative.

"They all looked at (each) other - 'It was the dumbest thing we ever did.' That was the best explanation," Kruse said.

Some of the defendants have received threatening letters as a result of their actions, Kruse said.
Source: Des Moines Register - Oct 26, 2005
Update posted on Oct 27, 2005 - 9:24PM 
Three Fort Dodge men appeared in Webster County Magistrate Court Wednesday morning for allegedly setting possums on fire and videotaping the scene in a case that has made headlines across the country.

Anthony Robert Herrington, David Lee Bendickson, and Kevin Calderon, all 19 years old, were each charged with two counts of animal torture.

According to the court records, the three roommates allegedly set two possums on fire between May and June in rural Webster County at the 2700 block of 180th Street and videotaped their actions.

The punishments for an aggravated misdemeanor are up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Source: The Messenger - June 30, 2005
Update posted on Jun 30, 2005 - 11:37PM 
Still no charges. The Webster County Sheriff's Department has interviewed all four of the teens involved. The sheriff has now turned over his recommendation over to the county attorney. He wants the 18 and 19-year-olds charged with animal torture.

This all stems from a video the teens made of lighting two live opossums on fire and laughing while they burned. The sheriff wants the county attorney to charge three of the teens with two counts of animal torture and the other teen with one count. Each count carries the possibility of two years in jail.
Source: WHO TV - June 28, 2005
Update posted on Jun 28, 2005 - 6:31PM 

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