By Andy Rose and Travis Caldwell, CNN
The caretaker of a tiger that temporarily went missing in Houston last year was sentenced to 18 years in prison in Fort Bend County on Tuesday in an unrelated murder case.
Victor Hugo Cuevas will receive 504 days credit for time served. His defense attorney, Michael W. Elliott, did not immediately return a message from CNN seeking comment Wednesday.
In May 2021, Cuevas was free on bond in the murder case when a 9-month-old Bengal tiger was seen wandering a west Houston residential neighborhood. As neighbors fled indoors and police responded, Cuevas came out of his house and pleaded with one deputy to not shoot and kill the tiger, known by the name India.
Cuevas said, “That is my tiger,” approached the tiger, grabbed it by the collar, kissed it on the forehead, and took it into the house, according to Wes Manion, an off-duty deputy from Waller County who lives in the west Houston neighborhood where the incident happened.
Manion said he watched Cuevas get in a white SUV with the tiger on board. He gave Cuevas numerous commands to stop, but Cuevas drove off.
Cuevas was arrested the next day and posted bond, yet was arrested again later that week for violating bond conditions. A judge revoked Cuevas’ original bond, increasing it to $300,000. Cuevas never raised the money for the higher amount and remained behind bars throughout the murder trial.
Cuevas’ wife, Gia, turned the tiger over to authorities after almost a week later, according to Houston Police.
The Cuevases were the owners of the tiger, Houston Police Cmdr. Ron Borza said. Victor Cuevas’ attorney had denied that, saying his client was taking care of the tiger for someone else, whom he declined to identify.
It is illegal to house a tiger in Houston, Borza said.
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