Maldonado-Passage had filed an appeal arguing that his murder-for-hire convictions should be overturned because the trial court allowed Baskin to attend his entire trial even though she was a listed government witness.
The two counts he was sentenced for using interstate facilities in the commission of his murder-for-hire plots should have been combined, he also argued, because they “involved the same victim and two or more acts or transactions that were connected by a common criminal objective,” according to the opinion.
The panel affirmed Maldonado-Passage’s conviction, finding that the district court acted within its discretion in allowing Baskin to stay in the courtroom as a crime victim. However, the panel ruled that the district court “erred by not grouping the two murder-for-hire convictions at sentencing.”
Maldonado-Passage’s appellate counsel told CNN he is “pleased with the appellate court’s decision” in a statement.
“I knew when I agreed to represent Joe that an appeal would be difficult, but I also knew that the law was on Joe’s side,” attorney Brandon Sample said 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.”
CNN has reached out to the Assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma for comment.
‘Tiger King’ star had been sentenced to more than 22 years in prison
Baskin, also featured on the show and a longtime vocal critic of Maldonado-Passage’s animal park, owns a tiger sanctuary in Florida and had earlier secured a million-dollar judgment against him.
During trial, a jury heard evidence that Maldonado-Passage paid a man $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to Florida to kill Baskin, with a promise to pay thousands more after she was dead, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma.
Maldonado-Passage had tried to find someone to kill her since July 2016, according to the US Attorney’s office, and had unknowingly met with an undercover FBI agent to discuss details of the planned murder.
CNN’s Faith Karimi and Travis Caldwell contributed to this report.Source link