Court orders shorter sentence for 'Tiger King' Joe Exotic

A federal appeals court is ordering a shorter sentence for “Tiger King” Joe Exotic

DENVER -- 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.

It’s possible that Maldonado-Passage could receive an even lower sentence than the range cited in the ruling because the court has to consider other factors too, his appeals attorney, Brandon Sample, said.

Meanwhile, another attorney representing Maldonado-Passage, John M. Phillips, hinted at the possibility of seeking a new trial, saying in a statement he would be filing motions citing previously undisclosed and newly discovered evidence in the case as well as examples of government misconduct.

“People should know what they saw on television isn’t the full truth. It isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. It was snowflakes on the tip of the iceberg, largely manufactured by those who wanted to see Joe Exotic in jail for their own benefit," he said.

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

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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This story has been corrected to say that the appeals court said the trial court should have calculated an advisory sentencing range of between 17 1/2 years and just under 22 years in prison, not that Maldonado-Passage should have been sentenced within that range.