On Wednesday, July 14, a district court ordered Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka Joe Exotic, to be resentenced for the murder-for-hire plan targeting animal activist Carole Baskin.
A federal appeals court upheld the television star’s sentence, but tossed out his 22-year prison verdict and ordered a redo, citing a flaw in the way a lower court judge calculated the amount of time. The ‘Tiger King’ star, was convicted in 2019 on 21 counts: Two for hiring hitmen to kill Baskin, and 19 counts of wildlife crimes. In 2020, he was convicted to 22 years in prison. Joe Exotic appealed the decision on two grounds: first, he argued that the court failed to allow Baskin to attend the entire trial because she was also serving as a witness and could have changed her testimony after attending the hearings. He also claimed his two murder-for-hire convictions were incorrectly separated, arguing that district court guidelines require the two counts to be assorted together since the same victim was involved and because the acts were related to the common criminal objective of murdering Baskin.
While the court supported the decision to allow Baskin to attend the proceedings, writing that it was her right to do so as a victim of his crimes, they agreed with Exotic that the court should have grouped the two murder-for-hire convictions. So if the court would have grouped the two counts, his total offense level, a metric used in sentencing, would have fallen from a 39 to a 37. The sentencing range for a 39 is 262 to 327 months, while the sentencing range for a 37 is 210 to 262 months. So the court should have sentenced Exotic to somewhere between 17 and a half years and just under 22 years in prison, rather than between just under 22 years and 27 years in prison.
According to the court guidelines, counts must be grouped if three provisions are met: the same victim is involved in the counts, two or more acts or events are involved with the counts and the acts or transactions are related to “a common criminal objective.”
“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,” circuit judge Harris Hartz wrote in a concurring judgment. “This error in interpreting the guidelines requires reversal.”
According to a CNN report, Exotic’s appellate counsel said that he is “pleased with the appellate court’s decision” in a statement. “I am optimistic that the decision today is but one of many more victories to come for Joe and his eventual freedom,” attorney Brandon Sample said.