Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who is better known as Joe Exotic from Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, is going to get a new prison sentence.
In 2019, he was infamously convicted of attempting to hire two men to kill his rival Carole Baskin, then sentenced to 22 years behind bars. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled Wednesday to vacate the sentence on a technicality.
Judge Gregory A. Phillips wrote the majority opinion that affirmed Maldonado-Passage’s conviction, Maldonado-Passage won’t be released like Bill Cosby, whose case brought the legal term “vacate” into our vocabulary last month. Randy Zelin, head of the criminal justice department at New York-based law firm Wilk Auslander, explains that this case is much different.
“Cosby’s conviction was erased,” Zelin tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Here, Joe Exotic’s conviction stands. It’s just that there was an error in the sentencing process.”
Maldonado-Passage’s team had said that he faced a longer possible sentence because the murder-for-hire counts against him were considered separately, when they should have been heard as one. He was convicted of two counts of murder-for-hire, plus eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act for his mistreatment of animals. His team argued that, if the charges had been considered together, Maldonado-Passage would have faced 210-262 months in prison versus the 262-327 months that were considered, according to Bloomberg Law.
Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice who is now a managing partner of New York-based law firm Tucker Levin, explains that someone being resentenced is “quite unusual,” and, in this case, will “almost certainly” mean a shorter sentence.
“The sentencing guidelines exist to promote uniformity and fairness,” Levin says, “and the appeals court was absolutely correct that Joe Exotic’s two murder convictions should not have been counted twice for sentencing purposes since they related to a single objective: to murder Carole Baskin.”
The judges ruled against Maldonado-Passage, though, for his argument that Baskin, the owner of the nonprofit sanctuary Big Cat Rescue, should not have been allowed in the courtroom during his trial. His team had claimed that Baskin hadn’t suffered any physical harm from their client’s crimes, so she didn’t qualify for the law that allowed her to attend his trial, because they believed it was only for victims of physical attacks. The court found that Maldonado-Passage’s crimes “directly and proximately caused Baskin’s harms,” citing her comments during the trial that she had increased her security and avoided appearing in public afterward.
The development in the case comes a day after Nicolas Cage, who had been poised to play Maldonado-Passage in a movie on Amazon, said that project won’t happen.
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