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Crime and Courts

Tiger King’s Joe Exotic will get shorter prison sentence following ruling by Denver-based federal appeals court

Joe Exotic had been sentenced to 22 years in federal prison in January 2020. The appeals court ordered the trial court to re-sentence him.

The front of the Byron White United States Courthouse, which houses the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. On Oct. 16, 2018. (John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

By Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that “Tiger King” Joe Exotic should get a shorter prison sentence for his role in a murder-for-hire plot and violating federal wildlife laws.

Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in federal prison after being convicted of trying to hire two different men to kill animal rights activist Carole Baskin. A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver found that the trial court wrongly treated those two convictions separately in calculating his prison term under sentencing guidelines.

The blond mullet-wearing zookeeper, known for his expletive-laden rants on YouTube and a failed 2018 Oklahoma gubernatorial campaign, was prominently featured in the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”

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The panel agreed with Maldonado-Passage that the court should have treated them as one conviction at sentencing because they both involved the same goal of killing Baskin, who runs a rescue sanctuary for big cats in Florida. According to the ruling, the court should have sentenced Maldonado-Passage, 58, to somewhere between 17 1/2 years and just under 22 years in prison, rather than between just under 22 years and 27 years in prison. The court ordered the trial court to re-sentence Maldonado-Passage.

Maldonado-Passage, who has maintained his innocence, was also sentenced for killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying wildlife records.

His supporters were disappointed that former President Donald Trump failed to issue him a pardon before leaving office. They were so confident in his chances that they had readied a celebratory limousine and a hair and wardrobe team to whisk him away from prison.

In his pardon application, Maldonado-Passage’s attorneys argued that he was “railroaded and betrayed” by others and said “he will likely die in prison” because of health concerns. He is serving his sentence at a medical prison in Fort Worth, Texas.


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