The man known as the “Tiger King” had his federal prison sentence tossed, though he will remain caged until he can be resentenced.
A U.S. appeals court has ordered Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” to be resentenced due to an improper separation of the counts of the murder-for-hire plot of animal activist Carole Baskin which led to his conviction.
In 2017, Maldonado-Passage bred lions and tigers, including hybrids, for the sole purpose of exhibiting the wild cats for entertainment at his Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.
Baskin, the owner and operator of an animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, accused Maldonado-Passage of animal abuse.
Both were thrust into the national spotlight for their roles in a 2020 Netflix documentary.
The rivalry evolved and became contentious after Baskin sued Maldonado-Passage for trademark and copyright infringement. The move led the entertainer to file for bankruptcy. Then in 2017, Maldonado-Passage started planning her murder by hiring one of his park employees and an undercover FBI agent to cut Baskins head off. Inevitably, the plan failed.
In 2019, Maldonado-Passage was found guilty of hiring two hitmen to murder Baskin. He was convicted of 21 counts, which included 19 counts for wildlife crimes and two for the murder-for-hire plot.
According to CBS, the 58-year-old entertainer appealed his sentence based on the trial’s court decision not to allow the plaintiff, who had also been a state witness, to attend the entire trial proceedings.
Secondly, he believed the trial court had also erred in its decision not to combine both counts since the case involved the same victim and the acts committed had a common objective to murder Baskin.
In its reply, the court upheld the trial court’s decision giving Baskin the discretion to appear at her own will since she was the intended victim of the perpetrated crimes.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit agreed with Maldonado-Passage that both counts should not have been separate. Court guidelines allow counts to be grouped when three elements are met: if the same victim is involved in the counts, two or more acts or transactions are involved with the counts and the acts or transactions are connected by a common criminal objective.
Initially, Maldonado-Passage was sentenced at level 39 of the guideline, which had allowed his penalty within the range of 262 to 327 months.
However, under the new sentencing guideline for the grouped counts, Maldonado-Passage will fall to level 37, within the range of 210 to 262 months.
Since the court had sentenced Maldonado-Passage to the lower end of the previous range, it’s probable that he would again be sentenced to the lower end of the new range, reducing his current sentence by four-and-half years in prison.
Maldonado-Passage’s resentencing date has not been set.