updated 9/10/2008 9:58:27 PM ET 2008-09-11T01:58:27

A Puerto Rican judge on Wednesday found a contractor and two of his workers not guilty of animal cruelty in a highly publicized massacre of dogs and cats seized from a housing project and hurled off a bridge last year.

Following weeks of testimony, Superior Court Judge Miguel Fabre ruled prosecutors did not show sufficient evidence to make a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, telling the court that investigators had no witnesses linking the trio to the pets' deaths in October.

A visibly relieved Julio Diaz, owner of Animal Control Solutions, and workers Lucas Montano Rivera and Roberto Rodriguez Ceballo shook hands with supporters outside the courtroom.

"This process has been a disgrace and justice was achieved. The only thing I have done is protect animals," said Diaz, who had repeatedly denied responsibility for the pets' deaths in press and court statements.

The three Puerto Rican men had faced animal-cruelty charges that carried maximum prison terms of nine years.

The killings of roughly 80 pets seized from a housing project in Barceloneta, a town along Puerto Rico's north-central coast, brought revulsion around the world and triggered calls for tourist boycotts of the tropical U.S. territory.

Diaz and his two employees had earlier waived their right to a jury, saying finding impartial jurors would be impossible due to the heavy publicity surrounding the case in the U.S. commonwealth.

The contractor has blamed the municipality of Barceloneta for seizing the animals and said he didn't know who threw them from the bridge along a highway that runs between Barceloneta and San Juan. Only a half-dozen survived the 50-foot fall, some with serious injuries.

Municipal officials in Barceloneta said they hired Animal Control Solutions to remove pets from housing projects, believing that regulations banned them.

Public prosecutor Zulma Delgado told reporters she did not intend to appeal Fabre's ruling. Prosecutors have 10 days to make that decision.

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