WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – In a case that a veteran Palm Beach County judge called among the most bizarre he’s ever seen, a 24-year-old man has been sentenced to a year of probation for tossing a live, 4-foot alligator through a Wendy’s drive-thru window.
It was twice the punishment Joshua James had hoped for when he entered an open plea Tuesday to Palm Beach County Judge Barry Cohen. Defense attorney Dean Merten had asked Cohen for six months of probation and to withhold a finding of guilt on two misdemeanor charges from the Royal Palm Beach case that could have landed James in jail for up to six months.
James, standing in front of Cohen, said he was deeply sorry for the incident, which he characterized as a prank he intended to play on a friend who worked at the restaurant in October.
He still went through with the plan even after he discovered his friend wasn’t working that night, and instead threw the alligator he’d found in a pond off Southern Boulevard into the drive-thru window when the cashier had her back turned.
The cashier testified in court Tuesday that she jumped out of the drive-thru window in a desperate attempt to escape the reptile she thought had inexplicably shown up on the restaurant floor.
Cohen told everyone in court Tuesday that the case had the “most bizarre fact pattern” of anything he’d seen in more than 25 years on the bench, adding: “I’ve never seen anything close.”
“This type of thing is not a prank. It’s a crime,” Cohen said in his last words to James.
James’ father, Edwin, described his son as a good kid who had loved playing with animals and reptiles ever since he was a child growing up in the Acreage.
Now a single father to a young son himself, James, Merten said, was hoping that he wouldn’t have to deal with a pair of misdemeanor convictions on his record in addition to the national spotlight the case has brought him since his arrest earlier this year.
“As you know, judge, things can live forever on the Internet,” Merten said. “25 years from now, if you Google ‘Joshua James alligator,’ you’ll get this case.”
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