Idaho man Michael Watkins pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony charge of attempted grand theft and a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty after killing a Patas monkey at the Boise Zoo last November.
Watkins, 22, avoided a jury trial by pleading guilty to the charges. He also avoided the more serious felony charges of grand theft and burglary that prosecutors were originally going to bring against him.
A sentencing hearing is set for May. Prosecutors can ask for up to seven years in prison for the attempted grand theft charge and six months in jail for the animal cruelty charge, according to The Idaho Statesman.
According to court records, Watkins told police that he was trying to set the Patas monkey free when it attacked him and he bludgeoned it with a tree branch. A friend who was with the young man around the time of the monkey’s death told police Watkins was trying to steal the animal. Watkins tried to blame the monkey’s death on his friend and also contended that he was acting in self-defense during the incident. His friend has denied any involvement.
There are many stories about what actually happened when the monkey was killed. Watkins’ friend says he saw his buddy hop over the fence at the zoo, chase the monkey around and try to throw his coat over the wild animal. After the two disappeared from sight, the man heard a loud bang and the sound of breaking glass before seeing Watkins walking back carrying the injured animal in his coat. A security guard intervened shortly thereafter.
Watkins' father told the local newspaper that he suspected the death was a result of a drunken prank that got out of hand. Jerry Watkins said his son was trying to get his picture taken with the animal when it attacked him. According to police, Watkins told officers and other friends that too.