Police: Man who admitted killing pet tortoise to face criminal charge

Boone County, Indiana, resident Tasha Chapel on Sept. 5, 2017, touches a tortoise she owns. Another tortoise she owned was shot and killed Sept. 1, 2017. (WISH Photo/Tim McNicholas)

LEBANON, Ind. (WISH) — The man who admitted shooting and killing a neighbor’s pet tortoise earlier this month in Zionsville is going to face criminal charges, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday in a news release.

The county prosecutor will charge Brandt Lawson with a count of criminal mischief for recklessly, knowingly or intentionally destroying Tasha Chapel’s tortoise without her consent, the release said. The release did not give the neighbor’s name.

County Prosecutor Todd Meyer said in an email that his office did not request an arrest warrant.

Deputies responded at 11:24 p.m. Sept. 1 to the death. Chapel said the tortoise named Merlin got outside a fence and away from her yard. Lawson, who lives on farmland nearby, admitted he shot the reptile.

In a phone call Sept. 5 with 24-Hour News 8, Lawson declined to comment on a motive. He called the incident “terribly unfortunate.” Lawson said he gave his side of the story to detectives but refused to tell us that story. Lawson wouldn’t say whether it was an accident and said his lawyer is involved in the case.

Lawson ’s lawyer released a statement Sept. 6 saying the man apologized to the pet’s owner immediately after realizing his “terrible error in judgment” and continues to indicate a desire to make amends.

The Zionsville man who has lived in the area for decades, apologized to the pet’s owner immediately after he realized his own terrible error in judgment. He expressed his sincere sorrow to the family and continues to indicate a desire to make amends. The overwhelming negative response on social media with distorted facts and speculation, has put a barrier between the man and the pet’s owner with attempts to make amends nearly impossible. The family is understandably angry and grieving for the loss of their beloved pet. The man is devastated that he mistook the exotic pet for a potentially harmful animal. He is hopeful that he will be able to meet with the pet’s owner to more fully express his sincere apologies.”

Chapel has asked people to buy #JusticeForMerlin T-shirts to help her with legal fees, and a YouCaring page had raised $880 of its $2,000 goal by Tuesday.

Boone County Sheriff Michael T. Nielsen also noted another peculiarity in the case in the news release issued Tuesday. He said the tortoise “is not considered a domestic animal by state law.”