President Trump may pounce on a pardon for Joe Exotic, the Tiger King

Lawyers for the former zookeeper say he will die in prison if not released.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
2 min read

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, with one of his tigers.


With just over seven weeks left in President Donald Trump's presidency, there's been plenty of buzz about pardons that the chief executive may grant on his way out of the White House. And we're not lion -- one of those pardons could be for Joe Exotic, aka Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka the Tiger King, who earned fame back in March and April thanks to Netflix's hit docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.

"We are waiting on the pen to hit the paper, we think we are very, very close," said Eric Love, an attorney for Maldonado-Passage, according to ABC News.

But the Tiger King isn't alone on the list of those waiting for pardons, and it remains to be seen if his request will rise to the top.

Trump already has pardoned former Lt. Gen Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, and ABC report notes that many of those who could receive pardons are much closer to Trump than a zoo owner he's never met.

The Tiger King show was a boon to many looking for something to watch at home during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. It tells the true story of the mulleted Joe Exotic, who once ran an exotic-animal park in Oklahoma with the help of his two (two!) husbands and a motley cast of characters. Joe also has a raging feud with animal-sanctuary owner Carole Baskin, and he was never shy about claiming she killed her husband and fed him to her own tigers. The show just keeps getting weirder, as Joe runs for governor and president, and attempts a country-music career even though it seems evident he's not the one singing in his videos.

But it was the Baskin hate that drove Joe to extremes, and Maldonado-Passage is now serving a 22-year prison sentence in Texas after being convicted on two counts of murder-for-hire as well as other charges.

Back in April, New York Post reporter Steven Nelson asked Trump about a joking statement from the president's son Donald Trump Jr. about a possible pardon for Joe Exotic. At the time, the president didn't appear to know about either the show or his son's request, though he gamely said, "I'll take a look."

Attorneys for Maldonado-Passage formally requested the pardon in September, saying he maintains his innocence, and his poor health means he "will likely die in prison" before his scheduled release in 2037.

"He humbly requests a pardon to correct the injustices he has experienced and to have the opportunity to return to providing meaningful contributions to his community," attorneys say in the 257-page application, ABC News reports.

The White House and attorneys for Maldonado-Passage didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. 

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