On Friday, January 28, just before 10 am in Oklahoma City, a 2.5 hour trial commenced with Joe Exotic flown in from North Carolina to be resentenced. With an orange jumpsuit that looked too big for his now skinny frame, it was clear Joe had lost lots of weight in prison, looking frail and weak. Carole Baskin and her husband Howard were in attendance, outnumbered by the numerous fans in “Free Joe Exotic” gear, filling up the downtown Oklahoma City courtroom on the cold Friday morning.
The resentencing was triggered by the fact that the judge had sentenced Joe 22 years, treating multiple counts as separate offenses. The 10th circuit of appeals agreed some of the charges should have been treated as one, sending this back to resentencing. The judge cited a range of 210 to 252 weeks for the new consideration and chose to administer the upper limit of 252 weeks, giving no mercy or leeway. Joe Exotic’s former presidential ticket running mate Doug Terranova said “One year seemed more like a slap in the face reduction when there was a preview of some of the evidence that's to come. John Phillips, Joe's attorney, asked for 90 months.”
Despite pleas from Joe himself and his counsel, citing his cancer, the new evidence and good behavior, the judge chose not to even sentence a lower limit, which would have been 15 years, a significant reduction from 22.
What was not in the scope of this hearing was the new evidence that surfaced very publicly in November’s Tiger King Season 2 release, where the “witnesses” that got Joe convicted, Jeff Lowe and hitman Allen Glover, have since changed their story, now on Joe’s side, confirming perjury. The same testimonies that landed Joe Exotic in prison for the supposed murder-for-hire plot against Carole Baskin, will be heard in a future appeals trial.
Joe’s zoo manager John Reinke said in an exclusive interview, “Growing up, you didn't perjure yourself in court. That was a big no-no. But during this whole case, you got Garretson, Lowe, Allen Glover, Erik Cowie, they all perjured themselves on that stand because Jeff Lowe told him what to say. And they did it without blinking an eye. They didn't care what the repercussions were.”
Jenn Garrett, an animal welfare advocate from Illinois, who wanted to attend the hearing but was unable to, watched the ensuing coverage and said to me in an exclusive interview, “Joe was set up and this was all started years ago by his nemesis in Florida and it worked, but now Joe has all the proof of the set up. Joe was the competition and he was taken out just like many others have and it’s wrong and it needs to stop.”
That “nemesis” is Carole Baskin and her husband Howard, who were in attendance at the trial. They had stayed in Oklahoma City the night before and looked refreshed and healthy Friday morning, in stark contrast to the gaunt Exotic, also known as Joseph Maldonado-Passage. The Baskins were given a front row seat and the entire row was cleared but they opted to sit in the back instead. After the trial, to avoid the media, they beelined to the airport. Exclusive images are here of the Baskins at the airport. Says Terranova, in attendance that day, “[Carole] said, ‘Joe's fans follow me, they harass me and threaten me. Well, welcome to my world lady. You did that to all of us for years and years. The world didn't know about Carole Baskin until 2020 but I knew Carole Baskin in 2008 when she started coming after me.”
The room, overwhelmingly supportive of Exotic, watched as key arguments were made. On the defense side, lawyer Molly Parmer, put to question Carole Baskin’s testimony claiming she feared for her life. Parmer reminded the courtroom that Baskin made a very public offer to Joe Exotic while he was in prison, that she would support Exotic’s pardon if Exotic were to endorse the Big Cat Safety Act, a legislation that would put more restrictions and regulations around private exotic animal ownership, encroaching into more government interference beyond exotic animals. So in the end, Carole was probably not been as afraid as she was claiming if that offer were made.
Carole’s testimony itself was read, almost deadpan and at points stumbled through as if she was reading it for the first time. Joe’s testimony was, in contrast, avoiding of much of the feud with Carole, cited the loss of his parents during his time in prison and his declining health. He directly rebutted accusations that he was organizing from behind bars, citing the lockdown and isolation nature of his imprisonment and the impossibility of coordinating a harassment campaign after accusations of him getting indirect access to Facebook.
The biggest elephant in the room was not discussed, which involves the new evidence but also the vigor and intense focus that government officials went after a private citizen. Many on Joe’s side were his counterparts and friends who had experienced similar but varying levels of bullying that affected their own lives.
This includes the aforementioned Texas-based Doug Terranova, former circus exhibitor and current private wildlife operator and also Joe’s former running mate during his presidential run. Terranova, for years, has worked magic with exotic animals, providing well trained and tamed animals to movies like Ace Ventura, Walker Texas Ranger, Harold and Kumar, Barney and Prison Break. Terranova had been harassed by frivolous complaints by Carole, PETA and the animal rights crowd, and subsequently the government. “What Carole [and PETA] did is they would file complaints with the USDA. She takes money and spends money. Carole always seems to have money and she was buying $100,000 plate tickets to fundraisers. She filed complaints all the time on me.”
These complaints include calling on frivolous claims, like a situation where his group was traveling from Minnesota to Fargo, North Dakota. He was late to a press conference due to icy weather when one of the trainers driving a pickup truck, got into an accident. “I did an interview while they were unloading the animals behind us. And I said ‘I'm sorry. Usually I bring out one of the younger ones and let you see, but we had an accident last night and the truck was in the ditch’. Carole called the USDA and said, ‘I want a wellness check out on the tigers because he said his truck was in a wreck’. We weren't talking about the tiger truck. So the USDA came out and they just shook their heads ” Another situation was a false alarm about people touching elephant tusks. The part that they didn’t realize was the tusks were already cut off the elephants. People touching the tusks was not illegal. Another video was created where the tigers were clamoring for feeding time in a travel cage and made to look like they were in bad conditions during travel, purposefully manipulated with dubbed ominous carnival music as the narration called to attention the loud carnival noises that were supposedly triggering the tigers.
“They will take stuff out of context. When you see these videos of people supposedly whipping the tigers, there are sound effects on it. They never come out right away. They wait years to bring them out. They're editing, putting sound effects and doing voiceovers, They're playing with the music using keywords that set people off. It's movie magic, folks,” Terranova explained.
Also in attendance was John Reinke, Joe’s former day to day zoo manager. Both were in attendance, having driven from different corners of Texas to show support and solidarity. Joe Exotic was visibly happy to see them and the fans with “Free Joe Exotic” shirts, as familiar faces during a short intermission when the judge went back to his chambers. Exotic spent his time winking and acknowledging his friends, despite the hopelessness of this trial, providing a rare moment of sunshine.
Reinke said, “There's no judge in the world going to admit that they screwed up. He brought [up the new evidence] up to the point where he says ‘I can't talk about it, because that's not what we're here for today’. But he knows about it. He knows all the charges. He knows everybody that perjured themselves, but overlooked it and went ahead and sentenced to the max.”
What’s next for the trial? Reinke has already been interviewed by the FBI regarding the new evidence. “I just went through another two and a half hour interview with the FBI in preparation for the next trial, that's going to happen because John Phillips is bringing up all the evidence about the misconduct with Matt Bryant, Amanda Green, the FBI agents that Garretson and Lowe all coordinated with to make all this happen. They drilled me about every statement I made in my deposition, and they questioned it. They just worked their way to convince you that you might have meant it like this. I don't know, they're intimidating.” Reinke has consistently stood by his story and hasn’t wavered.
The ramifications are bigger than this case, Reinke reminds us. Ohio, he believes, is a lost cause as Columbus Zoo fights while it’s AZA accreditation was recently stripped. “We still got Texas and Oklahoma. It's getting harder in Oklahoma with all this Tiger King stuff going on. There are some southern states that are still holding true to the animal world. But it's not in the West. Our west it’s getting where you can't even watch a rodeo anymore. There are actually cities in Colorado that can't have rodeos because of the animal rights people. Every day, you got to worry about animal rights people knocking on your door or talking to your neighbors or videoing your facility. They have convinced cities to not have animal acts in their circuses. Well, to me growing up, you went to a circus to see elephants and tigers and horses and dogs.”
There is optimism, however, and Doug Terranova says there’s a wild card that has messed up the plans to shut down private zoos. “These animals to them are pawns, they don't care about the animals. They care about the money, they care about the control. Carol has a 20-year plan where she's the only one left with tigers at the end of it. And that's kind of gotten a kink in it since Tiger King. She got the publicity she deserved, but not the kind she wanted. Let's put it that way.”
Doug and John both weighed in on my recent coverage of the developments post Season 2, providing another perspective to the overall discourse around issues. I was recently canceled by one of the publications I wrote for, due to my last interview with John Reinke. Never mind the substance of the interview, they picked on my attire. Reinke says, “They want to prove their point and make it look as bad as they can make it look. I thought your article was an excellent article. Several places picked it up and ran with it. Everybody said I did a good job. And the next thing I know, you’re getting fired from it. Absolutely crazy, but it just shows how political everything is nowadays.”
Doug says, “With today's cancel culture, you just have to say one word wrong. You can certainly be led down the wrong path very easily. People are being conditioned more and more to lose their rights. When I look at what's being done even to pets, these people in the long run the animal rights activists do not want you to own,eat or drink any kind of animal or animal byproduct or wear leather. I'm certainly not against adopting an animal. If you want to go buy a purebred animal, there's nothing wrong with that and you should be allowed to do it. You shouldn't be shamed for making the choice to purchase an animal.”
The public has ultimately lost because of all this harassment, losing the gift of being able to see and interact with these animals close up do. That interaction allows people to develop interest to research more and become more knowledgeable about these exotic animals. Instead, an undercurrent of negativity by “animal rights activists” use manipulated sound bites to create false perceptions and ignorance, and vilify honest Americans. While Joe’s story is sad and he deserves justice, the fact that this is happening to so many more people is the bigger story.
Marc Ang (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a community organizer in Southern California and the founder of Asian Industry B2B. He is also an animal rights activist who believes in looking at the lifespan of an animal and the big picture to craft practical legislation that respects the bond of an animal and its owner. Marc’s book “Minority Retort” will be released in early 2022.