An Oklahoma court vacated Tiger King star Joe Exotic’s 22-year prison sentence on Wednesday, but he’s not getting off scot-free.
The former Oklahoma zoo owner was found guilty of a failed murder-for-hire plot against his nemesis, Carol Baskin, a big cat rescue activist, and sanctuary owner, which was documented on the Netflix smash hit series.
Exotic, real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage, allegedly paid one of his employees $3,000 to kill Baskin after she won a million-dollar civil judgment against him. When that failed, he attempted to hire a hitman for $10,000, who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.
In 2018, he was federally indicted on 21 counts that including wildlife crimes and two murder-for-hire plots, but an Oklahoma judge said his current conviction must be vacated because the court proceedings broke federal guidelines.
Because Baskin, who was a witness, attended the trial, which did not group the murder-for-hire plots under one sentence, Maldonado-Passage has to be resentenced.
“We hold that the district court acted within its discretion by allowing Baskin to attend the full trial proceedings despite her being listed as a government witness, but that it erred by not grouping the two murder-for-hire convictions at sentencing. Accordingly, we affirm the conviction but vacate the sentence and remand for resentencing,” the judge wrote.
Despite telling the undercover agent to “just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off,” Baskin and her husband Howard said they would try to help Maldonado-Passage get a reduced sentence if he would speak in favor of a law that would put an end to private ownership of big cats.
Maldonado-Passage was eager to accept their help. “It is time for Carole and Howard to put up or shut the hell up, because I’m accepting their offer,” he said in April.
“And I’m gonna take it one step further than that, OK? It is time to get on the phone to President Biden or whoever they need to that they’ve got in their little financial pocket and say, ‘Hey, Joe is willing to support a big-cat bill to help protect cats in America from being exploited,” he continued. “But we need to keep our end of the deal and get Joe a pardon because this wasn’t really about murder for hire or shooting five tigers – this was about exploiting Joe to support Carole’s agenda.’ So, there’s the offer on the table, all right?”