A judge has rejected the “stand your ground” defense of a Florida man who said he beat an iguana to death only after it attacked him.

PJ Nilaja Patterson, 43, was arrested after allegedly beating, dragging and kicking a 3-foot iguana in Lake Worth, Florida, on September 2, 2020, CNN reports

Patterson must now stand trial on a felony animal cruelty charge, Palm Beach County Circuit Jeffrey Judge Dana Gillen ruled this week in denying the unusual defense.

The “stand your ground” law allows a person who is under attack and reasonably fears death or great bodily harm to use deadly force, even if they could retreat to safety. It has been used in several high-profile cases since it was adopted 16 years ago, but this is the first time the recipient of deadly force was an animal, NBC 10 reports

According to prosecutors, Patterson “savagely beat, tormented, tortured, and killed” the 3-foot iguana in a half-hour attack caught on surveillance video. Attorney Alexandra Dorman claims that “at no time was the iguana posing any real threat” to Patterson and he “was not justified in his actions when he kicked this defenseless animal at least 17 times causing its death.”

Under state law, people are allowed to kill iguanas, an invasive species, in a quick and humane manner. However, a necropsy showed the iguana had a lacerated liver, broken pelvis and internal bleeding, which were “painful and terrifying” injuries, prosecutors maintain.

Meanwhile, Patterson’s public defender, Frank Vasconcelos, alleges that the iguana was the aggressor when it “leaned forward with its mouth wide open and showing its sharp teeth, in a threatening manner” and attacked Patterson. 

Judge Gillen rejected that argument. Patterson could get up to five years in prison if convicted.