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Ex-Oklahoma zookeeper testifies in his murder-for-hire trial

April 1, 2019
FILE - This file photo provided by the Santa Rose County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage. Prosecutors say Maldonado-Passage, also known as "Joe Exotic, tried to arrange the killing of Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue. Lurors were shown a Facebook video Tuesday, March 26, 2019, that depicts Maldonado-Passage shooting a blow-up "Carole" doll in the head. Other videos show him pretending to dig a grave for Baskin and threatening to mail her rattlesnakes. (Santa Rosa County Jail via AP, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An ex-Oklahoma zookeeper and former candidate for governor says he never wanted to kill a woman who investigators say was the target of a murder-for-hire plot.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” testified in his own defense Monday at a federal trial. He’s accused of trying to arrange the killing of Carole Baskin, the founder of a Florida animal sanctuary who has criticized Maldonado-Passage’s treatment of animals. Baskin wasn’t harmed.

Maldonado-Passage testified he didn’t deny disagreements with Baskin spilled over into his social media posts. But Maldonado-Passage says he never wanted Baskin dead.

Prosecutors say Maldonado-Passage offered $10,000 to an undercover FBI agent to kill Baskin, and the conversation was recorded. His attorneys say he wasn’t being serious.

Maldonado-Passage faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted.