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Tiger King's Joe Exotic resentenced to 21 years in prison

A federal judge resentenced Tiger King Joe Exotic to 21 years in prison on Friday, reducing his punishment by just a year despite pleas from the former zookeeper for leniency as he begins treatment for cancer.

Exotic — real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage — resentenced on murder-for-hire charge

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, is seen at the zoo he used to run in Wynnewood, Okla., on Aug. 28, 2013. On Friday, a federal judge resentenced Maldonado-Passage to 21 years in prison. (Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press)

A U.S. federal judge resentenced Tiger King's Joe Exotic to 21 years in prison on Friday, reducing his punishment by just a year despite pleas from the former zookeeper for leniency as he begins treatment for cancer.

"Please don't make me die in prison waiting for a chance to be free," he told the judge who resentenced him on a murder-for-hire charge.

Joe Exotic — whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage — was convicted in a case involving animal welfare activist Carole Baskin. Both were featured in Netflix's Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.

Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, Maldonado-Passage still had his trademark mullet hairstyle, but the bleach-blond was fading to grey.

Baskin and her husband also attended the proceedings, and she said she was fearful that Maldonado-Passage could threaten her.

"He continues to harbour intense feelings of ill will toward me," she said.

A woman walks past a mural of Joseph (Joe Exotic) Maldonado-Passage wearing a mask in Wynwood Art District in Miami, Fla on June 29, 2020. Maldonado-Passage was originally convicted to 22 years in prison in January 2020. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

Maldonado-Passage to appeal sentence

Friday's court proceedings came about after a federal appeals court ruled last year that the prison term he's serving on a murder-for-hire conviction should be shortened.

Supporters packed the courtroom, some wearing animal-print masks and shirts that read "Free Joe Exotic." His lawyers said they would appeal both the resentencing and petition for a new trial.

The former zookeeper was sentenced in January 2020 to 22 years in prison after he was convicted of trying to hire two different men to kill Baskin.

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Maldonado-Passage that the court should have treated them as one conviction at sentencing because they both involved the same goal of killing Baskin, who runs a rescue sanctuary for big cats in Florida and had criticized Maldonado-Passage's treatment of animals.

Prosecutors said Maldonado-Passage offered $10,000 US to an undercover FBI agent to kill Baskin during a recorded December 2017 meeting.

In the recording, he told the agent, "Just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off." Maldonado-Passage's lawyers have said their client — who once operated a zoo in Wynnewood, Okla., about 105 kilometres south of Oklahoma City — wasn't being serious.

Maldonado-Passage, who maintains his innocence, also was convicted of killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying wildlife records.

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