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Joe Exotic of "Tiger King" loses appeal of new prison sentence

Nolan Clay, The Oklahoman

A federal appeals court has rejected Joe Exotic's complaints about his new punishment for twice trying to have his chief critic, Carole Baskin, killed.

The former Oklahoma zookeeper was resentenced in January to 21 years in prison.

His attorneys complained the trial judge imposed consecutive prison terms on his murder-for-hire convictions in violation of the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"Consecutive sentences for two counts ... involving the same course of conduct and a single victim who was never harmed are unconstitutional and therefore, his sentence must be vacated again," they argued.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver disagreed.

The murder-for-hire convictions are not multiplicitous because they involve distinct plots, U.S. Circuit Judge Michael R. Murphy wrote.

"(The) murder-for-hire attempts were born from a bitter feud with activist Carole Baskin over his treatment of animals at the zoo he operated in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. The pair’s colorful rivalry featured famously in Netflix’s 2020 documentary series, 'Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness,'" the judge noted in the 3-0 opinion.

The first attempt involved a zoo employee who was paid $3,000 to travel to Florida to kill Baskin but didn't follow through, the judge wrote. The second attempt involved an undercover FBI agent who was offered $10,000 to murder Baskin.

"Although they shared a common target, evidence indicates the hitmen shared little else. ... (They) never communicated or worked together; they received different instructions at different times; and they had entirely separate rewards. Thus, the two hitmen represented two independently operating plots to kill Baskin," he wrote.

Under Joe Exotic's argument, an individual "could amass a cavalry of independently operating killers to terrorize the intended victim without fear of being charged with multiple counts," the judge wrote.

The congressional intent behind the murder-for-hire law "certainly aimed to treat separate murderous solicitations distinctly, even if there is but one intended victim."

The opinion came out Friday, three days after President Joe Biden signed into law the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

The law bans the petting of tiger cubs, which was the main attraction at Joe Exotic's now-closed roadside zoo. Baskin, who operates an animal sanctuary in Florida, had long pushed for passage of the law.

Her husband, Howard Baskin, said Monday: "Joe has shown no remorse whatsoever for his years of mistreating animals and for his proven attempts to have Carole murdered, continues to lie and blame others online, and belongs in prison for the full 21-year sentence in our view."

Joe Exotic was originally sentenced to 22 years in prison for the murder-for-hire schemes and for crimes involving his animals. The federal appeals court ruled last year that U.S. District Judge Scott Palk made a mistake in imposing the punishment and must do it again.

"If I ever make it out of this alive, all I want to do is move on with my life," Joe Exotic said at the resentencing in Oklahoma City federal court. "I have learned several things from being incarcerated so far, and that is, you spend every second with your loved ones like there is no tomorrow. And no animal, depending on what it is, whether it's a fish or a tiger, does not belong in a cage," he said.

His attorneys asked the judge at the resentencing to impose only 90 months.

He maintains he was set up and is innocent. He is now seeking a new trial on newly discovered evidence and government misconduct grounds. He claims the key witnesses against him have recanted their testimony. That request is pending before his trial judge.

He is also seeking a pardon from Biden after failing to get one while Donald Trump was in office. "Well it seems that my stocking was empty again this Christmas, first by President Trump then by President Biden," he complained Sunday in an Instagram post. "And we all believed in Christmas miracles?"

Joe Exotic was born Joseph Allen Schreibvogel but his name has changed over the years depending on his marital status. He now goes by Joseph Maldonado. He is 59.

His trial judge imposed his first sentence on Jan. 22, 2020, after a jury convicted him at a 2019 trial. Months later, he became famous after Netflix released "Tiger King." Millions watched while in pandemic lockdowns at home, making it a breakout hit.

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