The father of the man accused in the break-in at Zoo Boise said Tuesday that he believes the tragedy was a drunken prank that got out of hand.
“He’s not a malicious monkey murderer,” Jerry Watkins, 52, said of 22-year-old Michael Jacob Watkins.
Watkins said his son owns two chihuahuas with his girlfriend in Weiser. They have a 1-month-old son, and Michael Watkins was set to begin a job at a factory in Weiser on Monday.
Instead, Boise police arrested him on grand theft and burglary charges connected to the zoo incident, which happened over the weekend.
Michael Watkins was drunk and wanted to try to get a picture with the monkeys when he broke in to the zoo, according to what his friends have told Jerry Watkins.
He called it “a college prank turned into a horrible situation.”
“I’m thinking the monkey attacked him and he just tried to defend himself,” Watkins said. “I don’t think he ever intended to kill it; he’s just not that kind of guy.”
The beating death of the patas monkey has outraged people and gained international attention. Newspaper websites across the world carried stories about the suspect’s arrest Tuesday. Internet commentators left messages on Watkins’ suspected employer’s page, accusing it of employing a “monkey killer.”
Watkins’ first court date on the criminal charges is set for Wednesday at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise. He was booked into the Ada County Jail about 3:10 p.m. Tuesday after being transferred from the Washington County Jail in Weiser.
Jerry Watkins said he’s disappointed in his son, who knows better than to try to break into a zoo after a night of drinking. He hasn’t talked to him since his arrest and is holding out hope that police have the wrong guy — but he’s bracing himself for a continuing legal saga.
“I can’t even watch the (TV) news,” he said. “I saw the news this morning and said, ‘They’re going to crucify him.’ ”
‘A GOOD KID’
Jerry’s wife, Susan Watkins, described her 22-year-old stepson as a new father who did well in school and helped children during summers.
He graduated from Fruitland High School in 2008, where he was a champion wrestler.
“He was good in school. He even volunteered during the summer to feed the kids in the park,” Susan Watkins said. “That’s all I’m gonna say. He was a good kid. He’s my baby. I love him.”
Police identified Watkins as a suspect based on a tip Sunday. They linked the tip to an investigation Saturday morning regarding a man who showed up at a local hospital with injuries not consistent with his explanation.
That man was Watkins, police said Monday, though they haven’t said whether he got injuries fighting with the monkey. A hat recovered at the zoo belonged to Watkins, police said.
A security guard saw two men near the primate area about 4:30 a.m. Sunday. Police and zoo staff were looking for the burglars when they heard the monkey and found it badly injured near its cage. The monkey died a short while later of blunt force trauma to his head and neck.
Police have not said how they suspect the animal got those injuries, or how it was removed from its cage.
Michael Watkins has misdemeanor drug- and driving-related convictions from 2009 and was jailed in June for a probation violation, but his father said he had been working hard to live a better life for his newborn son.
“He’s not a hard-core partier,” Jerry Watkins said. “He goes out and parties once in a while when he’s in Boise, but that’s it.”
Watkins said his son didn’t kill animals even when hunting. He grew up with dogs and still mourns their deaths, including the death of a couple puppies he lost to parvovirus.
“He cried and cried and cried over that situation,” Watkins said. “I believe he’s crying over this situation, too.”
Meghann M. Cuniff: 377-6418