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Joe Exotic Announces Cancer Diagnosis, Seeks Early Release from Federal Prison

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Joe Exotic with Tiger. | Image by Wired

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Joe Exotic posted on Twitter on Wednesday, November 3, that he has been diagnosed with cancer.

Former Oklahoma zookeeper, Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, first gained the public’s eye for his role on the Netflix documentary ‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness.’ He is currently being held in the federal prison in Fort Worth for multiple convictions.    

In 2019, Maldonado-Passage was convicted in an attempted murder-for-hire plot to kill animal rights activist Carol Baskin, the owner of a rescue sanctuary in Tampa for big cats. He was also convicted of violating federal wildlife laws by killing five tigers, which Maldonado-Passage claimed was “euthanasia.”   

Maldonado-Passage has remained firm in his claim that he is innocent of the crimes of which he was convicted.

John M. Phillips, Maldonado-Passage’s attorney, posted on Twitter, “He (Maldonado-Passage) and I spoke Monday with both of us in tears at a point. He needs freedom by so many definitions and we are diligently working towards that.”   

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Maldonado-Passage’s Twitter post stated: “It is with a sad face that I have to tell you… that my prostate biopsy came back with aggressive cancer.”    

In a letter released to various news media by Phillips, Maldonado-Passage wrote: “I am still waiting on the results from other tests as well. […] Right now, I don’t want anyone’s pity,” he stated in the letter.     

Phillips confirmed the cancer diagnosis, according to NBC News.

The attorney said, “Maldonado has been undergoing medical treatment and tests for a host of issues. The PSA test is a blood test used primarily to screen for prostate cancer. It was high. He finally obtained biopsies. They revealed cancer. Medical care is different in a prison environment and fewer options are available.”    

The Tampa Bay Times reported that “a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver in July ordered Maldonado-Passage be resentenced to a shorter term, finding that the trial court wrongly treated the two convictions separately in calculating his prison term.”   

The panel believes his sentencing should not be 22 to 27 years but instead should have a range of 17.5 to 22 years.   

Maldonado-Passage is still awaiting resentencing, but in the meantime, his attorney is petitioning for “compassionate release” for his client so that he may seek quality medical care outside the prison system.    

Phillips explained to BBC News that, “Justice in America is very slow.” He is urging the judge to speed things up and honor a release so Maldonado can have “good medical treatment outside of the prison system,” adding, “We can’t spend four months on him waiting to get treatment.”

As reported by NBC News, Maldonado-Passage stated in his letter: “They have proof I did not do this and there is no reason for the U.S. attorney to drag this out so I can go home and get treatment on my own or enjoy what time I have left with my loved ones.”   

Meanwhile, Investigation Discovery Network has hired retired U.S. Secret Service Agent Jim Rathman, now a private investigator, “to look into the case of Baskin’s missing husband, Don Lewis,” according to ABC Action News.

In the course of that investigation, Rathman reportedly found evidence that the murder-for-hire plot against Baskin never happened.    

“You find your evidence and you let the evidence take you wherever the case is going to take you. And in this particular case, [it] keeps bringing me down the path that this murder for hire never happened,” Rathmann stated.

New recordings of phone calls have been released that “call into question the testimony of some witnesses.”   

In January of this year, ABC Action News reported that audiotapes had been released that Maldonado-Passage’s legal team hopes will hasten his release from prison.  

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