OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Nearly a dozen letters were submitted by the attorney for Oklahoma’s ‘tiger king’ ahead of his sentencing after being found guilty on murder-for-hire counts and wildlife charges earlier this year.
On Tuesday, U.S. public defender Bill Earley filed a sentencing memorandum for Joseph Maldonado-Passage in hopes to reduce his prison sentence.
In the memorandum, Earley says Maldonado-Passage was “painted as a liar, thief, animal abuser and homicidal manic.”
10 letters were also submitted from friends asking the court to consider their experiences they’ve had with Maldonado-Passage.
In Sept. 2018, Maldonado-Passage, better known as ‘Joe Exotic,’ was indicted on two counts of murder-for-hire and later indicted with more than a dozen wildlife charges.
The former Greater Wynnewood Animal Park owner was found guilty on all 19 counts on Apr. 2 after four hours of deliberation.
“The self-described Tiger King was not above the law,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester in a prepared statement. “Rather, the jury only needed a few hours of deliberation before finding him guilty of engaging in a murder-for-hire plot to kill a rival and violating federal laws intended to protect wildlife when he killed multiple tigers, sold tiger cubs and falsified wildlife records. We are thankful for the jury’s careful attention, deliberation and verdict in this case.”
During the trial, prosecutors said the intended target was Carole Baskin, a chief critic of Maldonado-Passage and owner of Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary in Florida. She successfully sued Maldonado-Passage in 2011 for trademark infringement before a 2013 judgment ordered Maldonado-Passage to pay $1 million.
The government pointed to secretly recorded conversations between Maldonado- Passage, an informant and an undercover FBI agent posing as a hitman during cross arguments. In one, Maldonado-Passage is heard talking about Baskin’s usual daily locations she would frequent.
The jury also heard evidence during the trial that Maldonado-Passage paid former park employee Allen Glover $3,000 from Oklahoma to go to South Carolina and then Florida to murder Baskin with a promise to pay thousands more after the deed.
An undercover FBI agent posing as the hitman was another key witness in the case. According to prosecutors, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly sought someone to murder Baskin in exchange for money starting in July 2016 which led to his meeting with the undercover agent on Dec. 8, 2017.
However, the defense has long claimed their client was framed. They said he was all talk and had no intention of wanting Baskin dead.
Earley told the jurors during cross-examination to consider the fact that both plots commenced at the same time but apparently “without any collusion” to support their claim that Maldonado-Passage was set up.
Earley also noted that Glover’s testimony “was impossible to corroborate” because he did not take a phone with him to Florida and admitted on the stand to being under the influence at certain points when he was sent to South Carolina and Florida.
In addition to the murder-for-hire counts, Maldonado-Passage was also convicted of violating the Lacey Act. It a crime to falsify records of wildlife transactions in interstate commerce under that law. He has also been convicted of shooting and killing five tigers in Oct. 2017 without a veterinarian present and in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Maldonado-Passage has remained in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending sentencing.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Maldonado-Passage could be imprisoned on each murder-for-hire count up to 10 years. He would also be subject to up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 per count. Each Lacey Act violation could carry a prison term of five years, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release. Each Endangered Species Act count could result in one year in prison, a fine of $100,000 and one year of supervised release.