Austin man claims he hammered turtle to death in self-defense

Terry Washington, charged with a state jail felony for beating a turtle to death with a hammer on June 21, 2016 (Austin Police Photo)
Terry Washington, charged with a state jail felony for beating a turtle to death with a hammer on June 21, 2016 (Austin Police Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The man who shocked bystanders on the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail last month, by beating a turtle to death with a hammer, has been charged with a state jail felony.

Terry Wayne Washington, 55, was charged Tuesday with cruelty to a non-livestock animal. On June 21 at around 5 p.m., two joggers noticed a crowd gathered on the bridge overlooking the Bouldin Creek spillway where it opens into the lake on West Riverside Drive.

The two joggers told police they watched Washington fishing, struggling to reel in what they thought was a large fish. Instead of a fish, a large common snapping turtle came into view.

Another man standing next to Washington with a hammer used the claw end of the hammer to hook onto the turtle’s shell and pull it to shore. Witnesses said the other man was just trying to help the turtle and at no point did he try to hurt or hit the turtle.

Terry Washington, charged with a state jail felony for beating a turtle to death with a hammer on June 21, 2016 (Austin Police Photo)
Terry Washington, charged with a state jail felony for beating a turtle to death with a hammer on June 21, 2016 (Austin Police Photo)

Washington then grabbed the hammer and began beating the turtle with the blunt end. Witnesses said the turtle was trying to escape and return to the water.

At no point did Washington try to free the turtle from the fishing line, police say. He then continued to hammer the turtle 10 times, breaking through its shell, until it died. Graphic video of the incident shows the man looking back at the gathered crowd while he continued to hammer through the turtle’s shell.

Washington then dragged the dead turtle under the bridge to get out of view of onlookers yelling at him to stop. He left the turtle carcass under the bridge, then got into his vehicle and left the area.

On June 23, police were notified that Washington was at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Facility and wanted to confess to killing the turtle. Washington told police his friend was fishing and hooked the turtle, and that he took over when the turtle was too strong to pull to shore. According to a police affidavit, Washington said he was scared because the turtle was “lunging” at him and tried to bite him multiple times.

Washington claimed he killed the turtle in self-defense as he was trying to get his hook back. He admitted to police he never attempted to cut the fishing line and, in the end, never retrieved his hook.

Police interviewed his friend who was seen holding the hammer. He agreed with Washington’s version of events, saying the turtles were a nuisance that day because they kept eating their bait and scaring away the fish.

An investigating police officer went under the bridge and found the turtle carcass. The turtle measured 27 inches in length and 15 inches wide, weighing 30-40 pounds. The entire head of the turtle was caved in. “There was a blood trail from the water’s edge all the way to the turtle, which was approximately 75 feet away,” the officer noted.

Police do not believe it was a quick death for the turtle and say Washington’s claim of being attacked by the turtle does not match witness accounts.

Washington was also cited for hunting without a license and for improper disposal of a carcass.

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