MANATEE -- A Palmetto man was sentenced Wednesday to a year in county jail after he admitted to killing his girlfriend's rabbits.
Francisco Velasquez, 36, killed the rabbits Oct. 21, 2013, as demonstration of what he said he would do to the woman.
Velasquez pleaded no contest last week to one count of battery and two counts of cruelty to animals.
At a sentencing hearing Wednesday, defense attorneys said Velasquez killed the animals to cook and eat because his girlfriend refused to cook for him.
"There is no question that the killing of these rabbits is an act of domestic violence, is indeed an act of power and control," Judge Edward Nicholas said. "The fact that you would kill two defenseless animals suggests to me a frightening level of anger."
Nicholas agreed with the defense that taking the case to trial would have been
difficult but did not agree with the stated motive for the killing.
"I do not accept as true that you killed the rabbits to eat them," Nicholas said. "I know that is your testimony, but I do not believe that, and that is my prerogative. The court makes difficult decisions every day, but this, however, is not one of them."
Nicholas adjudicated Velasquez guilty of all three charges and sentenced him to 11 months and 29 days in the Manatee County jail with credit for time served.
Additionally, he was ordered on probation for two years following his release and must successfully complete on first try a 29-week domestic violence intervention program, during which he will be evaluated. He must complete any treatment and take any medications ordered by the program.
Velasquez will also not be permitted to have contact with his girlfriend, to whom he testified he is still engaged. He also said she wants him home, although she was not in the courtroom Wednesday morning. The no-contact will remain in effect until he completes the domestic intervention program.
On the morning of Oct. 21, an argument between Velasquez and the woman turned physical, and he began to curse at her, shoved her in the temples and threatened to kill her or snap her neck, according to an arrest report.
Witnesses said he threatened and pushed the woman before walking over to the rabbit's cage, opening it and taking out one of the rabbits.
"The defendant took the white rabbit and beat it in the head with his fist until it was dead, and then dropped it on the ground," the arresting deputy reported. "The defendant then pulled a white-and-brown rabbit out of the cage and then also beat it to death with his fist."
Investigators said the victim told them Velasquez said: "This is what I'm about and more."
Later, according to witnesses, Velasquez took the two rabbits and threw them into some mangroves.
His girlfriend then locked herself inside a car and waited for deputies.
Photos of white rabbit hair in Velasquez's hair were taken by investigators, and samples were taken at the Manatee County jail.
"When a deputy at the jail asked what is that in your hair, the defendant said it was the hair from where he killed the rabbits," the deputy reported.
Velasquez has threatened to snap his girlfriend's neck before, according to the report.
Velasquez is also facing charges of theft after authorities were alerted Oct. 21 to a stolen window air conditioning unit at his residence. The air conditioner was taken from a home in the 1000 block of 72nd Street Court East, Palmetto, according to that arrest report.
That case remains open, although formal charges have not been filed by the State Attorney's Office.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.