Norman Christmas Parade

Joe Exotic waves at the crowd during the Norman Christmas Parade Dec. 9, 2017, in Downtown Norman.

Joe Exotic will receive a new prison sentence after the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals threw out his original 22-year sentence in his murder-for-hire conviction.

The federal court of appeals upheld the conviction for Joseph Maldonado Passage, popularly known as Joe Exotic, but claimed his trial judge U.S. District Judge Scott Palk erred during his sentencing.

Maldonado-Passage rose to national prominence during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, when Netflix released the “Tiger King” documentary about his zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.

In 2019, Maldonado-Passage was sentenced to 22 years in prison for twice trying to have animal rights activist Carole Baskin murdered. Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue, was an outspoken critic of Maldonado-Passage and his treatment of his big cats. The hit man Maldonado-Passage hired to kill Baskin was an undercover FBI agent.

The court of appeals’ decision comes after Maldonado-Passage appealed his convictions, arguing that his two murder-for-hire convictions should have been grouped together in sentencing because “they involved the same victim and two or more acts or transactions that were connected by a common criminal objective: murdering Baskin.”

His appeal also claimed that Palk made a mistake when he allowed Baskin to attend the entirety of the trial proceedings despite the fact that she was a government-listed witness. The court dismissed this appeal.

“We hold that the district court acted within its discretion by allowing (Carole) Baskin to attend the full trial proceedings despite her being listed as a government witness, but that it erred by not grouping the two murder-for-hire convictions at sentencing,” the opinion reads. “Accordingly, we affirm the conviction but vacate the sentence and remand for re-sentencing.”

The jury also found Maldonado-Passage guilty of illegally killing five tigers with a shotgun — violating the Endangered Species Act — along with other crimes involving his animals. His legal team was unsuccessful in an attempt to have former President Donald Trump pardon Maldonado-Passage earlier this year.

Jeff Lowe, the new owner of Maldonado-Passage’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, shuttered the zoo last year.

The Transcript reached out to Maldonado-Passage’s legal team Wednesday and was directed to a spokesperson for DiscoveryTV; they did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reese Gorman covers COVID-19, local politics and elections for The Transcript; reach him at or @reeseg_3.

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Politics Reporter

Reese Gorman covers politics and the COVID-19 pandemic for The Norman Transcript. He started as an intern in May of 2020 and transitioned into his current position as a staff writer in August of 2020.