NAPLES — Eighteen-year-old Brandon Ladon Black had a hankering for fresh, tender alligator meat and there was nothing like it in North Fort Myers, nothing like what they have in the Everglades.
So he traveled there on June 14, 2008, with his friend, Justin Glenn Beatson, 17, and they drank a little beer, smoked a little pot and shot a few alligators and snakes. But as they left, Beatson's pickup truck and Black's car got stuck in the mud -- with three illegally poached dead alligators and two rifles.
To top it off, the truck and car were stolen from North Fort Myers and the stolen car contained a stolen 9 mm gun. By the time U.S. Park Ranger MaryJo Y. Shreffler arrived, they'd dragged the alligators into the mud, trying to hide them, but another officer already reported seeing them in the truck.
That's the account outlined in sworn affidavits by Shreffler and Florida Fish and Wildlife conservation officers that detail the boys' confessions, how Beatson tried to flee twice, and how each blamed the other for stealing the vehicles. Both face charges involving burglaries, the car thefts and stolen gun in Lee County, but federal poaching charges were dropped.
On Tuesday, Black pleaded to poaching alligators, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in a state prison, and was adjudicated guilty. But under a plea agreement negotiated by Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Griep and Assistant Public Defender Ramesh "Ray" Gudur, he was sentenced to six months in the county jail, is barred from obtaining a hunting license for three years, and he forfeited the rifles he and Beatson purchased from a pawn shop.
"Can I ask you what you planned to do with them?" Collier Circuit Judge Frank Baker asked, referring to the alligators.
"Eat them, sir," Black replied.
"Are you hooked on alligators?" asked the judge, who frequently speaks at length with young defendants, often prompting a chuckle from those watching.
Baker wondered why he'd travel all the way from North Fort Myers to Birdon Road and the canal near Turner River Road to hunt alligators. "You like alligators that much?"
"Yes, I do," the teen told him.
"Don't they sell them up there?" the judge asked.
"Not as good as this," Black replied as he stood in his orange jail jumpsuit.
"Well, I hope you can kick this fresh alligator habit," the judge said, telling him to consider how much he paid for his desire to eat three alligator tails -- fines, court costs, the cost of a public defender, prosecutor, investigation, and bond.
Baker added: "You can say, 'Gee whiz. They're fairly expensive and now I have a record."
Beatson, who was charged as a juvenile, got payback for his hunting trip: an alligator bite that left his hand all bloodied.