updated 8/18/2008 7:53:29 PM ET 2008-08-18T23:53:29

Three men accused in the killing of pets seized from a public housing project waived their right to a jury as their trial began Monday, saying heavy publicity would make it impossible to find impartial jurors.

Animal control workers in October took about 80 pets from the housing project in the northern Puerto Rican town of Barceloneta and allegedly tossed them off a bridge to their deaths. The killings brought revulsion around the world and triggered calls for tourist boycotts of this U.S. Caribbean territory.

Julio Diaz, the owner of an animal control company, and two former employees are charged with animal cruelty and have pleaded not guilty.

Manuel Reyes, a lawyer for Diaz and his company Animal Control Solutions, said a fair trial by jury would be impossible.

"This is a case that has received a lot of negative publicity and the general population that could be on the jury is already contaminated," he said.

Defendants Diaz, Roberto Rodriguez and Lucas Montano face maximum sentences of three years in prison. Prosecutors plan to introduce 21 witnesses.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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