OKLAHOMA CITY – A former Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate and zoo owner is in federal court Monday morning.
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic” and former owner of the Greater Wynnewood Animal Park, was indicted by an Oklahoma federal grand jury with two counts of murder-for-hire in September.
He stands accused of offering people money since 2014 to kill his chief critic, Carole Baskin, who is the owner of a big cat rescue in Florida.
Opening statements lasted for about an hour Monday as the trial officially began.
During the trial, the jury is expected to hear about the relationship between Maldonado-Passage and Baskin.
The government alleges he planned two separate murder-for-hire plots to kill Baskin.
Maldonado-Passage also stands accused of violating the Endangered Species Act after allegedly shooting five tigers at the park that were unable to produce cubs in order to make room for cats coming in from Florida.
The defense claims Joe Exotic has been set up, and that he had no intention of trying to kill Baskin, adding that he was just "playing along."
A witness who is also a former employee is expected to take the stand Monday.