(POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY, Okla.) — Joe Exotic, the larger-than-life Netflix star from the hit show “Tiger King: Murder Mayhem and Madness,” is speaking out from prison a month after being re-sentenced for a murder-for-hire plot against animal rights activist Carole Baskin and for violating the Lacy Act and Endangered Species Act.
Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was resentenced to 21 years in prison on charges of perpetrating the murder-for-hire scheme and for the killing and selling of tigers.
During his trial, it was alleged he had hired a hit man for $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to Florida to murder Baskin. Separately, it was alleged he tried again to hire a hit man for $10,000 to murder Baskin in December 2017, but that person was actually an undercover FBI agent.
Exotic has adamantly maintained his innocence and vowed to appeal the conviction.
“How can you even expect somebody to go from Oklahoma to Florida to scope her out, however long that would take and back, on $3,000? That is absurd,” Joe Exotic told ABC News during a phone interview from Pottawatomie County Jail.
He added that he’s hoping to submit a motion for a new trial as early as this week.
Released on March 20, 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, millions tuned in to the seven-part docuseries that chronicled the life of Joe Exotic, the owner of the G.W. Zoo, where he imported and bred big cats.
In the nearly two years since the series was released, Netflix reports that the series has been streamed by 64 million viewers.
Exotic claims he’s not one of them.
“I have not seen nothing,” said Joe Exotic. “Look, I have received and answered back over 11,000 letters, but every letter told me — I get letters from 8-year-old kids to 95-year-old grandmothers — and every letter says it’s because I was unapologetic.”
“I stood up for what I believed in and because I’m not ashamed of who I am,” he added.
Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue in Florida, had accused Exotic of animal abuse and ignited a long-standing dispute that bankrupted Exotic and his zoo.
Joe Exotic denied ever treating his animals badly.
“What are they calling treating animals badly? Keeping them in cages?” said Exotic. “If people saw my videos on the YouTube channel, I walk in a cage with 24 full-grown tigers and lions at a time. Do you think if I abuse them, they would allow that?”
The series also sparked interest in the cold case of the disappearance of Baskin’s ex-husband, Don Lewis.
Since Lewis’ disappearance in 1997, authorities have not identified any suspects and his body has never been found. During the series, Exotic claimed that Baskin fed Lewis to her tigers, a claim that Baskin has repeatedly denied.
While in custody, Exotic aimed to author a tell-all memoir that set the record straight, but said he was disappointed by the final product.
“Keep in mind, I didn’t promote that book because they edited my whole story… I’m disgusted by the way I’ve been exploited,” he said. “Get on the internet and Google ‘Joe Exotic’ and hit the shop button and look, everybody in the world is making money off of me, but me.”
Exotic is also dealing with early-stage prostate cancer while in prison. He had petitioned a judge last month to reduce his sentence based on the disease, but the term was only lessened from 22 years to 21.
“I’m losing weight real bad and the sores in my mouth are unbearable to live with all the time,” said Exotic. “But you know, in the three and a half years that I’ve been in custody, I’ve been taken to the hospital 43 times.”
Even while incarcerated, Exotic maintains a cult following. He said he wants his fans to keep up the support.
“They have seen the show. They’ve seen the characters. They’ve seen my lawyers provide some of the evidence. All I can say to them is keep believing in me,” said Exotic. “I’m not going to let you down. I love each and every one of you people.”
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