Prison treatment program for Idaho monkey killer

AP News
Posted: May 16, 2013 3:47 PM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho man convicted of breaking into a Boise zoo last fall and brutally beating to death one of two Patas monkeys has been ordered to spend up to a year in a treatment program at a state prison.

Michael Watkins, 22, of Weiser, was sentenced Thursday for his role in the Nov. 17 crime that caused shock and outrage in Idaho's capitol city and beyond.

Watkins pleaded guilty in March to felony attempted grand theft for illegally entering the zoo, built in a city park a few blocks from the downtown, and animal cruelty, a misdemeanor under state law.

Fourth District Judge Lynn G. Norton rejected defense attorney requests that Watkins deserved probation and would be punished in a way for the shame of being "forever known as the man who killed the monkey at Zoo Boise."

Instead, Norton said she wanted a punishment that fits the crime but allows the young father of a seven-month-old son to turn his life around.

Norton sentenced him to seven years in prison for the grand theft, making the first two years fixed, and the maximum six months for animal cruelty. Norton opted to send Watkins to a state prison facility focused on intense treatment programs, but will review progress upon his release to determine whether to send him to prison or set probation conditions. The type of treatment Watkins will undergo will be determined in the coming weeks by prison officials, but the judge recommended substance and grief treatment.

"There were a number of places you could have made different decisions" that night, Norton said. "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."

Prosecutors say Watkins, fueled by a night of excessive drinking at downtown bars with a friend, broke into the zoo with a plan to capture one of the monkeys. Once inside, he manipulated a lock to get into the primate enclosure and removed the Patas monkey by wrapping it in his jacket and tried throwing it over a fence, according to court records.

But the monkey resisted, tried running away and a chase through a small section of the zoo ensued. Ultimately, Watkins lost control of the situation and resorted to violence, kicking the monkey and clubbing it multiple times in the head and upper body and leaving it to die from those injuries, Ada County Deputy Attorney Shawna Dunn said in court Thursday.

"He had many opportunities to disengage. Instead, he continued to chase ... and continue the violent onslaught," said Dunn. "This is a case about punishment for a crime that harmed a community. This was senseless conduct with violence toward an animal."

Watkins, who has been incarcerated since he was arrested days after the crime, apologized for his behavior.

"I know that my actions were selfish and they impacted people at Zoo Boise, the public and Boise. I would like to formally apologize," he said.

The monkey's death stirred shock and outrage in the community, but also traumatized zoo employees who tended to the Patas pair, zoo officials said. It also caused concern about the welfare of the survivor because Patas monkeys are extremely social and the prospect of having it live alone prompted zoo administrators to find a new home or others to adopt. Ultimately, the Rosamund Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y., donated two companions in December.