A 22-year-old Idaho man who pled guilty to breaking into a Boise zoo last fall and beating a monkey to death has been sentenced to seven years in prison. According to the Associated Press, Michael Watkins, of Weiser, Idaho, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty as well as attempted grand theft and burglary, which carry felony and misdemeanor charges.
The incident took place during the early morning hours of Nov. 17, 2012, when Watkins broke into Zoo Boise following a night of drinking. Police said that he had been in town visiting with friends for the weekend. After scaling a security fence near the zoo’s primate exhibit, Watkins reportedly tried to steal one of the zoo’s two patas monkeys. The monkey bit Watkins during the attempted heist, and Watkins kicked and hit the animal with a tree branch in response. The monkey later died in the hospital of blunt force trauma.
Watkins later confessed to police that he had planned to steal the monkey. "I know my actions were selfish and it impacted Zoo Boise, the public and Boise itself," he said in Idaho’s Fourth District Court on Thursday. "I would like to formally apologize to all involved."
His public defender, Gary Reedy, attributed Watkins' heavy drinking that night to grief over the recent death of his aunt coupled with the discovery, days earlier, that his grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer. “He was taking it very hard," Reedy said. "He became intoxicated."
Reedy argued that Watkins deserved probation for the crime, saying that he would already have to live with the shame of being “forever known as the man who killed the monkey at Zoo Boise.” Judge Lynn G. Norton rejected that request, but said that the sentence would be revisited in a year.
"There were a number of places you could have made different decisions" Norton said, referring to the night of the crime. "I have read everyone's version of what happened in this offense, but what I am convinced of, is your assessment of events ... is your understating the damage that you inflicted on this monkey."
The zoo’s director, Steve Burns, said that the sentencing finally brought closure to a tragic saga in the zoo’s history. "We're moving on," Burns said. "The court has done its job and we're continuing to do our job."