Spoilers for Tiger King ahead. Netflix's docuseries (opens in new tab)Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (opens in new tab) has captivated our collective imagination since it dropped on March 20. The wild (no pun intended) tale follows Joe Exotic, an openly gay man from Oklahoma who, for many years, ran a makeshift zoo featuring hundreds of exotic animals, most notably tigers, which Exotic (whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage) bred onsite.
Tiger King chronicles Exotic's years-long feud with animal rights activist Carole Baskin (opens in new tab), who runs a big cat sanctuary and worked tirelessly to shut down Exotic's operation. The series ends with Exotic sentenced to 22 years in prison after being convicted of several crimes, including a murder-for-hire plot against Baskin (opens in new tab). If you're like many viewers, you may be left wondering if Exotic is still behind bars—and what's become of his legal battle now.
Is Joe Exotic still in jail?
The short answer is: Yes. While we're often used to documentaries that are released years after the events they depict, the final chapters of Joe Exotic's saga (opens in new tab), as depicted in Tiger King, actually occurred quite recently.
Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison on January 22, 2020.
Where is Exotic serving his sentence?
At the end of the docuseries, Exotic was still being held in a county jail. However, since he was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison, it's likely he was moved shortly after filming wrapped. Federal records on the Bureau of Prisons website (opens in new tab) haven't been updated yet to reflect his permanent residency.
What was Exotic convicted of?
Joe Exotic was found guilty of two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma said in a January 2020 statement (opens in new tab).
Will Exotic appeal?
According to a Newsweek report (opens in new tab), Exotic vowed to appeal the decision and even wrote a letter to Donald Trump, requesting a presidential pardon.
More recently, Exotic fought back against his conviction by filing suit against the federal government.
On March 17, according to court documents obtained by Rolling Stone (opens in new tab), Exotic filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Interior for for $78,840 million for "18 years of research and care of 200 tigers and cross-breeds for 365 days a year."
The suit, filed at the Grady County Jail in Oklahoma, alleges that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the "generic" tiger on the endangered species list not as a measure of protection for the species, but as a way to target individuals who breed the animals for business. This allowed "them to file charges to put me in jail and out of business," he wrote in the lawsuit, "therefore stealing my property and promoting an animal rights agenda."
So, it doesn't seem like Joe Exotic is going to be finished fighting any time soon.
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Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years of professional experience. Her byline has appeared in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic, Allure, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Bustle, Refinery29, Girls’ Life Magazine, Just Jared, and Tiger Beat, among other publications. She's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
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