Joe Exotic to be featured in documentaries, "Dateline" prime time report and magazine articles
Even in disgrace, Joe Exotic remains somewhat of a media darling.
Journalists last month came from across the country to chronicle the former zookeeper's murder-for-hire case, so many that the judge moved the jury trial to a bigger courtroom.
Among those taking notes was Manuel Oteyza, producer of "Blackfish," the 2013 documentary that sparked a public backlash against SeaWorld and led the theme park company to end killer whale shows.
Also present were writers for New York magazine and Texas Monthly, and producers for "Dateline," the long-running NBC news magazine. Rumored to be present was a representative of Netflix, the online TV network whose original programming includes a number of true-crime shows.
Oklahoma City TV reporters did regular live shots from outside the Oklahoma City federal courthouse. Sketch artists created detailed drawings of the scene inside the courtroom. A documentary crew conducted an interview while jurors deliberated.
The Oklahoman published accounts of what the witnesses said after all six days of testimony and put the news story on the guilty verdict across the top of the front page.
The 56-year-old defendant, whose real name is Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, opened a private zoo in Wynnewood in 1999 that came to be despised by animal rights activists for letting visitors pet and even have "play times" with tiger cubs taken from their mothers at birth. He ran for president in 2016 as an independent and for governor of Oklahoma in 2018 as a Libertarian.
He was found guilty Tuesday of twice hiring someone in 2017 to kill his chief critic, Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary in Tampa, Florida. She had been trying to force him out of business for years.
- Related to this story
- Video: Joe Exotic, former Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate, indicted, accused in murder-for-hire plot
He also was found guilty of illegally killing five tigers in 2017 with a shotgun, illegally offering to sell and selling tiger cubs and falsifying documents involving the sale of tigers, lions and a baby lemur.
He faces up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines on the two murder-for-hire counts alone. U.S. District Judge Scott Palk will decide his punishment at a sentencing in about 90 days.
He told jurors documentaries about his life are in the works and he acknowledged negotiating from jail with the filmmakers.
He bristled during his testimony when a prosecutor suggested he'd been paid several thousands of dollars already by filmmakers for his life story.
"I haven't got a dime," he said.
He said he had the money go to his husband, Dillon Jacob Passage, who is living in Texas. "I have nothing," he said. "If I walk out of here today, I have to give this suit back."
In November, he asked the "Blackfish" producer from jail for $7,000 for rent in hopes he could get released on bail if he had a place to stay. In an email shown to jurors, he offered zoo videos and other information in exchange for payment.
He said he was working with one documentary crew before his arrest, re-enacting the scattering of the ashes of his late husband. Travis Maldonado died at the zoo in October 2017 when he accidentally shot himself. Joe Exotic married Dillon Passage two months later.
Also being paid by documentary filmmakers is John Finlay, who was in a relationship with Joe Exotic for years after he began working at the zoo. "Me talking about what happened in my life is helping me move on," Finlay told jurors.
The murder-for-hire case had lot of characters and elements that journalists and filmmakers love.
There is the confidential informant, a former strip club operator and tiger owner who called Baskin to warn her after being asked by Joe Exotic over and over to find someone to kill her. He was called back by a special agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The informant, James Garretson, of Ringling, then agreed to secretly record his conversations with Joe Exotic and others.
There is the first "hit man," zoo worker Allen Glover, who let Joe Exotic believe the teardrop tattoo under his eye meant he was a killer.
The convicted felon, who did time for assault, told jurors he accepted $3,000 cash from Joe Exotic after promising to cut Baskin's head off. He claimed he was just stringing Joe Exotic along to get the money and leave the zoo. He testified he drove high and drunk to Florida to warn Baskin in person. He said he never made it, ending up partying on a beach.
In a recording played for jurors, Glover told the confidential informant, "I'm just a person that don't have a problem with it. I'm going to hell anyway. I'm not going to let this ... place fall. ... This is something that has to be done."
There is the second "hit man," who actually was an undercover special agent for the FBI. He promised in a Dec. 8, 2017, meeting at the zoo to kill Baskin for $5,000 down and $5,000 more when it was done.
There is the intended victim, Baskin, whose husband, Don Lewis, a self-made multimillionaire, helped her start her sanctuary and in 1997 disappeared without a trace.
Through her organization, Baskin successfully sued Joe Exotic for more than $1 million for trademark infringements and other misdeeds. She has been relentless in legal efforts to collect, a tactic that drove Joe Exotic to file for bankruptcy and then sell his zoo.
And there is the zoo's new owner, Jeff Lowe, who was accused by Joe Exotic of orchestrating an elaborate setup to get rid of him and his costly legal problems for good. "Joe lies every time his lips move," Lowe told The Oklahoman.
Lowe was asked by a "Dateline" producer for an interview for a planned one-hour "prime time report about the case once it is adjudicated," according to a letter he posted on Facebook. Lowe later announced he had made an agreement with a "certain media outlet" and will be dealing with them exclusively.
"Some very interesting stories will evolve from this, I promise," Lowe wrote in a Facebook post.
Joe Exotic seemed to always find a way to get media attention.
The big cat breeder was featured in a 2011 BBC episode of "America's Most Dangerous Pets." He stunned the host when he said he would euthanize every animal in his park if he was ever forced out of business.
He was the highlight of an October 2016 episode of the popular HBO comedy show, "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," about third-party presidential candidates.
In a quirky campaign video played at the start of the episode, he walks around a large zoo enclosure near two big cats. With a holstered gun strapped to his waist, he vows not to cut his hair or change the way he dressed and describes himself as gay and broke.
"Wow! Just wow!" the host says to laughs.
He had a TV studio at the zoo and made two online shows, "Joe Exotic TV" and later "Joe Gone Wild," to raise money for the animals. He claimed at trial the shows had millions of viewers.
He recalled wearing adult diapers one time for $500 on "Joe Gone Wild."
"The crazier you got" he said of the second show, "the more people watched."
In a bizarre admission during his testimony, he also said he "did a little bit of soft porn" in the months before his arrest last September in Gulf Breeze, Florida.