Search for tiger continues as alleged owner returns to jail
RICHMOND, Texas (AP) - While a Texas man who police claim is the owner of a tiger that terrified residents after briefly wandering around a Houston neighborhood remains behind bars on Friday the whereabouts of the animal are a mystery.
A full-day trial on Friday did not reveal any new information about the tiger's whereabouts, as Houston police gave about 300 tips that they have received so far that have not yet been made public.
Police allege Victor Hugo Cuevas is the owner of the tiger, a 9-month-old man named India, and he is charged with evading arrest after authorities alleged he fled Houston officials targeting one Called about a dangerous animal on Sunday evening.
After a trial in a separate case facing 26-year-old Cuevas in neighboring Fort Bend County, attorney Michael W. Elliott reiterated that his client does not own the tiger. Elliott said he only knows the owner's first name, he worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to find India, and Cuevas just wanted the animal to be safe.
“We want to find India. Someone knows where India is. Hopefully the cat is still fine, ”said Elliott.
At a separate press conference in Houston earlier on Friday, the police reported Cmdr. Ron Borza said some of the tips officers received about the possible location of the tiger were "a little crazy".
"We know the group of people involved in the exotic animal trade here in Houston ... We have all visited and have been out of luck so far," said Borza.
Investigators believe the tiger was likely passed around between six and eight different locations in Houston to hide it, but that the animal is likely still in town, Borza said.
Carole Baskin from the Netflix documentaries "Tiger King" offered a reward of $ 5,000 for the safe return of the tiger.
At the time of his arrest on Monday for alleged evasive maneuvers against the Houston police, Cuevas was already charged with murder in Fort Bend County in 2017. Cuevas has claimed the shooting was self-defense, Elliott said. Cuevas was released from prison on Wednesday for evasion.
During a trial Friday, Fort Bend County Attorney Christopher Baugh ordered Cuevas to be held without charge of murder. The incident with the tiger showed that Cuevas "completely disregards public safety".
District Judge Frank J. Fraley did not grant the motion but revoked Cuevas' current $ 125,000 bond and issued a new $ 300,000 bond. It was the fifth time Cuevas' loan had been revoked in the murder case.
Borza said Cuevas and his lawyer did not work with the Houston police in the search for the tiger, but "maybe he would be more cooperative with us if he goes to jail." We'll see how to do that. "
During Friday's trial, Deputy Wes Manion of the Waller County Sheriff's Office testified that he lives in the Houston neighborhood and was alerted about the tiger by a neighbor.
Manion testified that he interacted with the tiger for about 10 minutes to make sure he wasn't going after someone else and that Cuevas came out of his house yelling, "Don't kill it" and that it was his tiger.
"He approached the tiger, grabbed his collar and kissed his forehead," said Manion.
The MP said he identified himself to Cuevas and told him not to leave after loading the animal into the back of a white Jeep Cherokee, but Cuevas fled the scene when Houston police arrived.
During the trial, Elliott argued that Cuevas was unaware that the Houston police wanted to question him and that he only left because he feared for the tiger's safety because Manion had been aggressive. Elliott said the tiger's release was an accident as it likely jumped over a fence.
Elliott also said Cuevas did nothing illegal as Texas has no state law prohibiting the private possession of tigers and other exotic animals. Tigers are not allowed within the Houston city limits under a city ordinance unless the handler, such as B. a zoo is licensed to have exotic animals.
After the trial, Elliott described the tiger as a pet rather than a dog, and that Cuevas occasionally looked after the animal for its owner. Elliott provided copies of pictures of Cuevas cuddling and kissing the tiger.
Elliott said Cuevas, a mixed martial arts fighter who also works as a barber, first met the tiger's owner after buying a dog from him, and the man later told him he had other animals, including the tiger.
“This (tiger) is loved like a dog. Victor's love for this cat ... is real, "said Elliott.
Elliott said he didn't know if Cuevas would be able to post his new bond, but if he is released again Cuevas will do everything possible to find the tiger and let him live in a wildlife sanctuary for the rest of his life .
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70
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