A science teacher who fed a sick puppy to a snapping turtle in front of students has been found not guilty of animal cruelty.

The teacher, Robert Crosland, was charged in Idaho’s Franklin County with one count of misdemeanor animal cruelty in June after the allegations surfaced, which caused outrage and national headlines.

Witnesses testifying during Crosland’s trial said the high school teacher first tried to feed the living puppy to a large snake, last March. When that failed, the witnesses said Crosland dropped the puppy into a tank where the turtle killed and ate it.

The incident took place out of timetabled hours, but local reports claim four students were present at the time.

During the trial, the jury heard Crosland say in a recorded interview that he thought he was doing the right thing, because the puppy was sick and likely to die.

He said:

“I honestly thought I was doing the right thing. That’s what’s been so hard in seeing all this because that’s what I’ve been taught my whole life – not to let the animal suffer.”

On Friday afternoon, a jury of six found him not guilty after about 30 minutes of deliberation at a trial.

Following the incident, the snapping turtle was seized and euthanized on the grounds that it wasn’t a native species, according to The Mirror.

Animal welfare group, Idaho Humane Society, has blasted the acquittal of the teacher, calling the decision to not find him guilty a “grievous error in judgment”.

In a statement, the IHS said:

“This travesty does not create any new precedence for allowing cruelty but rather, will undoubtedly serve as a rallying cry for those who care passionately about the welfare of animals to renew their efforts in communities throughout Idaho.”

A petition was also set up by parents to get Mr Crosland sacked soon after the incident, which amassed more than 240,000 signatures.

The petition read:

“This is an extreme example of extremely poor judgement. Even if the puppy was so sick it was eventually going to die, Crosland should not have fed it to a snapping turtle, especially while still alive. There are humane ways to deal with dying animals.

“Studies show that people who commit violence against animals are more likely to commit violence against people. Do we really want teachers killing living animals in front of impressionable junior high students?

“Robert Crosland’s actions were sick and disturbing. Please sign this petition urging Preston School District Superintendent Marc Gee to fire Crosland now.”

After being exonerated, Mr Crosland thanked the Preston community for their support.

He said: “It’s really what got me through all this, just their comments and talking to me and expressing their love.”

Images via Herald Journal/Franklin County Sheriff’s Office/Idaho Humane Society