TAMPA, Florida – The highly anticipated Netflix series Tiger King 2 debuted last week, raising new questions about wildlife violations and the conspiracy murder conviction that landed Joe Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic,” in federal prison .
ABC Action News I-Team investigator Adam Walser spoke to Tiger King’s new lawyer about ongoing efforts to help Joe get out of jail.
Lawyer John Phillips claims new evidence could pave the way for a judge to overturn his conviction.
While Tiger King 2 tops Nexflix’s list of most watched shows, Joe Exotic’s new lawyer is optimistic about his client’s future.
“2022 is the year of the tiger. We hope it will also be the Year of the Tiger King, ”said Phillips.
“Dancing with the Stars” ad unites Joe and a new lawyer
John Phillips took over as Joe’s attorney in March.
It was the appearance of Tampa resident Carole Baskin on ABC’s “Dance with the Stars” that brought Joe and Phillips together.
At that time, Phillips represented the daughters of Baskin’s ex-husband Don Lewis and Lewis’s longtime executive assistant Anne McQueen.
Lewis was the co-founder of Big cat rescue (formerly Wildlife on Easy Street), which Carole Baskin currently operates at Citrus Park.
Lawyer Phillips ran an advertisement on an episode of “Dancing with the Stars” featuring Baskin, who sought advice on Lewis’ whereabouts after Lewis disappeared nearly a quarter ago. century.
Both seasons of Tiger King raise questions as to whether Carole Baskin was involved in Lewis’ disappearance.
This missing person case is still under investigation by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
“Don Lewis mysteriously disappeared in 1997. His family deserves answers. They deserve justice ”, Phillips said in the ad, which offered a reward of $ 100,000 for information.
“Joe saw it and heard from me. And I was desperately trying to get emailed in jail or visit him, ”Phillips said.
Phillips met him in a Texas prison, agreed to represent him, and appealed his 22-year prison sentence.
“The Court of Appeal overturned his conviction. And so there has to be a new conviction. As part of the new conviction, there will be new evidence, ”Phillips said.
Phillips: witnesses lied, authorities skimp
Phillips said new evidence shows the federal government has failed to prove that Joe shot tigers that could no longer produce new cubs to free cages for more animals.
A former employee testified about this during his trial.
But Phillips said federal wildlife officers had failed to prove their case.
“All they did was dig up the heads and the heads showed a bullet hole and that’s it,” Phillips said.
As part of uncovering the case, Phillips obtained a video of USDA officers laughing and joking as they sawed off the head of a buried tiger in Joe’s old zoo.
“Yes!” an officer says, as the tiger’s head slips away from his body.
“Victory,” proclaimed another officer in the video.
Retired Secret Service Agent Jim rathmann investigated Joe’s case and helped draft a pardon request made to former President Donald Trump before he left office.
He also believes crucial evidence has been overlooked.
“They completely ignored what was documented by Joe’s vet, Dr. Greene, which was documented evidence on the five tigers that they suffered from everything from arthritis to degenerative disc disease, which was reportedly detected under x-rays, ”said Rathmann. “But that opportunity never presented itself because they only cared about the heads.”
“The story is in the animal’s body. That determines if they’ve been subjected to euthanasia and that’s what’s left in the soil, ”Phillips said.
Phillips said an old white Bengal tiger named “Samson,” who a zoo staff said was one of five tigers slaughtered by Joe, was found alive and healthy at another wildlife sanctuary in the last year.
“It’s stuff like that… that they really didn’t care about the facts, rather than the substance of getting a conviction.” And that’s a problem, ”Phillips said.
Phillips said new affidavits also proved witnesses lied during Joe’s trial about the plot to kill Carole Baskin, saying text messages and recorded phone conversations pointed to possible misconduct by federal agents.
“This is not a case where the federal government stepped in after the fact and said, ‘Hey, there’s this pay-for-murder plot. Let’s go back to question witnesses. They were on this side, way ahead, trying to make the pay-murder plot really happen, ”Phillips said.
“He made no effort to go out of his way to get $ 5,000 in cash, sell baby tigers, get cell phones …
“Health is important, but so is freedom”
In the meantime, Joe Exotic is fighting another battle… having recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
He was transferred to Federal Medical Center Butner in North Carolina last week.
“He was transferred the morning before Tiger King aired. From what I understood, it was a trailer, a private plane from Texas to North Carolina. And he’s currently in quarantine, ”Phillips said.
Phillips is hopeful that Joe’s medical treatment will not interfere with his sentence renewal hearing.
“Health is important, but so is freedom. And we would prefer him to seek treatment outside, where his doctors are not chosen for him, ”said Phillips.
“2022 is the year Joe Exotic will be released from this prison and regain his life,” said Rathmann.
In another bizarre twist, Joe Exotic plans to pay for his legal defense with proceeds from a new cryptocurrency called the T-King coin.
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