'Tiger King' Joe Exotic's Sentence Vacated by Appeals Court

A judge has ordered Joe Exotic to be resentenced after his 2019 conviction in a murder-for-hire plot.

Tiger King's Joe Exotic's sentence has been vacated -- but he will remain behind bars as he awaits resentencing.

A judge for Oklahoma's 10th District Court has ordered the eccentric zookeeper -- real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage -- to remain in prison until he is re-sentenced following his 2019 conviction in the murder-for-hire plot of animal activist, Carole Baskin, ET confirms. 

Maldonado-Passage was previously sentenced in 2020 to serve 22 years in prison for the plot against Baskin as well as other crimes, which included killing tigers to make room for more at this exotic animal park. 

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Oklahoma, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly tried to hire people -- one of whom was an undercover FBI agent -- to murder Baskin, eventually allegedly gave a person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to Florida to murder Baskin and "allegedly agreed to pay thousands more after the deed."  

In an appeal filed by his lawyers, Maldonado-Passage disputed the conviction.

"On appeal, he disputes his murder-for-hire convictions, arguing that the district court erred by allowing Baskin, a listed government witness, to attend the entire trial proceedings. He also disputes his sentence, arguing that the trial court erred by not grouping his two murder-for-hire convictions in calculating his advisory Guidelines range. On this second point, he contends that the Guidelines required the district court to group the two counts because they involved the same victim and two or more acts or transactions that were connected by a common criminal objective: murdering Baskin," the appeal explained.

The judge agreed with the appeal, stating, "Although the district court apparently thought that the two murder-for-hire plots shared a common criminal objective, it mistakenly (although quite understandably) thought that grouping would not be proper unless they were also part of the same course of conduct. This error in interpreting the guidelines requires reversal."

In a statement after the court's ruling, Maldonado-Passage's attorney, Brandon Sample, said, "I am pleased with the appellate court’s decision in Joe’s case. I knew when I agreed to represent Joe that an appeal would be difficult, but I also knew that the law was on Joe’s side. I am optimistic that the decision today is but one of many more victories to come for Joe -- and his eventual freedom." 

"The Court’s first words were, ‘It was a rivalry made in heaven’,” added John M. Phillips, the lead attorney for Maldonado-Passage's criminal and litigation team. "However, this was not a ‘rivalry made in heaven.’ It was made in back room deals between Carole Baskin, Howard Baskin, their legal and public relations teams, PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and others, including federal law enforcement officers and officials."

Phillips continued, "Now that the appellate court has ruled, we will be filing motions on Joe’s behalf that will reveal both undisclosed and newly discovered evidence as well as numerous examples of government misconduct. Among the evidence ignored by the public defenders, is the fact that Howard Baskin worked with Matt Bryant, the lead Federal Fish and Wildlife investigating officer, for years before all of these events transpired, including discussing infiltration of Joe’s zoo to get him arrested. This is one of thousands of important facts withheld from the jury."

"People should know what they saw in 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. The truth will soon be told," he added. 

Maldonado-Passage released a statement of his own on Instagram, thanking his legal team for their work on the case, which he called "corrupt."

"I would like to thank my Appeal Attorney, Brandon Sample, for winning my appeal. Now starts the job of John Phillips to file all the stuff to prove the corruption by the Federal Agents and U.S. Attorneys. Now would be a good time for President Biden to say enough is enough and sign my pardon, and become a world hero before all the proof comes out of just how corrupt this case really is. #justiceforjoeexotic #chargestacking #criminaljustice @floridajustice," he wrote alongside a photo of him and one of his many big cats.

Maldonado-Passage's case is being sent back to the Oklahoma City judge, who has been ordered to group the two murder-for-hire plots together for the resentencing.