The Denver-based Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld the murder-for-hire conviction for Joe Exotic, the star of the hit Netflix show “Tiger King”, but ruled that he must be resentenced due to an improper interpretation of his crimes.
Joe Maldonado-Passage — who also went by Joe Exotic — was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in prison after a federal jury found him guilty of a murder-for-hire plot targeting Carol Baskin, owner of a Florida-based tiger sanctuary.
He was also found guilty of falsifying wildlife records and violating the Endangered Species Act by shooting and killing five tigers.
Maldonado-Passage argued in his appeal that Baskin should not have been allowed to attend the trial because she was listed as a government witness.
The Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday, however, that the “the district court acted within its discretion” in allowing Baskin — who was also a victim in the case — to not be sequestered from the courtroom.
The court did agree with Maldonado-Passage that the District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma “erred by not grouping the two murder-for-hire convictions at sentencing.”
“Accordingly,” Judge Gregory A. Phillips wrote in the opinion, “we affirm the conviction but vacate the sentence and remand for resentencing.”
Maldonado-Passage had been convicted of two murder-for-hire charges in light of evidence that he enlisted two people — one an employee at his park and another an undercover FBI agent — to kill Baskin.
But the district court should have grouped those two convictions together when considering sentencing guidelines, Phillips wrote.
Grouping the convictions would mean Maldonado-Passage would be looking at a sentence of 210 to 262 months in prison — down from the 262 to 327 months guidelines that the court ultimately used.
Maldonado-Passage took America by storm last year when “Tiger King” rocketed to the top of every watchlist during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.
But his eccentric personality took a dark turn when a federal grand jury in 2018 indicted him for attempting to get Baskin killed, and evidence emerged that he killed tigers at his park to make room for other big cats.
Although Maldonado-Passage remains behind bars in a Texas federal prison, he continues to make headlines.
In January, his team was so confident that he’d be on President Donald Trump’s pardon list that they readied a limousine and hair and wardrobe team to whisk him back to freedom.
But Trump never pardoned him.
Exotic’s attorneys say he’s likely to die in prison due to to health concerns, though the man who once ran for Oklahoma governor is again seeking a presidential pardon.
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