A man accused of killing a monkey at the Boise Zoo Saturday morning told police he was "trying to set it free" when it attacked him and he bludgeoned it with a tree branch, according to new details released in court Wednesday.
But a friend who was with Michael Jacob Watkins that morning told police Watkins was trying to steal the animal when he broke into the zoo. That friend says Watkins eventually wrapped the monkey in his coat then tried to throw it over a fence, Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Fafa Alidjani said.
"His friend says he wanted a monkey," Alidjani said. But, "he wasn't able to throw the monkey over the fence, so he claims the monkey attacked him...He's claiming self defense."
Watkins also blamed the monkeys death on his friend, but the man denies being involved, according to testimony from probable cause hearing obtained by the Idaho Statesman.
The friend, who has not been arrested, told police he was walking with Watkins by the zoo around 4:30 a.m. when Watkins suggested they go inside and steal a monkey, according to court records. The friend said he stayed outside the zoo but watched as Watkins jumped over a zoo fence and saw him chasing a monkey and trying to throw a coat over it. He said Watkins said the monkey bit him and that he was trying to capture it, a Boise police officer said in court Monday.
The man said he lost sight of Watkins and the monkey for a short time before they re-emerged later by the outside fence. He said the monkey tried to climb the fence, but Watkins pulled it off by throwing his coat at it and the two ran back inside the zoo.
A short time later, the man told police he heard a loud bang and possibly the sound of broken glass, then saw Watkins carrying the monkey in his coat. The man said Watkins unsuccessfully tried to throw the monkey over the outer fence.
Thats around the time Watkins and the men were confronted by a security guard, who said he saw one man inside the zoo and another outside of the fence. Both Watkins and the other man fled. Police and zoo staff found the injured monkey by the outside fence while searching for the men.
The new details were released through court proceedings that included Watkins appearing before a judge for the first time Wednesday on felony burglary and grand theft in a video arraignment in 4th District Court.
Watkins public defender, Gary Reedy, unsuccessfully asked 4th District Magistrate Judge Henry Boomer at that hearing to reduce Watkins bond from $150,000 to $10,000, saying the 22-year-old won't miss court and isn't a risk to the community.
He said Watkins, who lives in Weiser with his girlfriend and 1-month-old son, was distraught over his grandmother's cancer diagnosis and the deaths of family members to the disease when his brother and friends took him out to Boise. He got drunk and was wandering around when he and a friend walked through Julia Davis Park and entered the zoo.
"They opened the door, the monkey was released. They tried to get it back at least into the enclosure. it wasn't working well. The monkey eventually attacked Mr. Watkins. There was a scuffle and the monkey was injured."
Reedy said Watkins has cooperated with police and was providing "maps, diagrams and an account of what happened" Wednesday morning.
Watkins father told the Idaho Statesman Tuesday that he suspected the tragedy was a drunken prank that got out of hand. Jerry Watkins said his son's friend said Watkins was trying to get his picture taken with the animal when it attacked him. Police say Watkins told officers and other friends that, too.
Information released in court Wednesday indicates Watkins accessed the locked monkey cage by walking through the front doors to the lobby of the primate building, which were unlocked to allow security to check on the animals. Police say Watkins didnt have tools with him but manipulated the padlock and sidelock on the cage to open it.
Watkins also told police he used a fire extinguisher during the break-in, according to court testimony, but its unclear if he used it to injure the monkey.
A tip to Crime Stoppers Sunday led police to arrest Watkins Monday. They realized Watkins was the same man whom officers had spoken with Saturday morning after he showed up at a hospital with injuries to his upper torso. Watkins said he was injured in a bar fight, but police say he was bit by the monkey.
Watkins was arrested Monday in Weiser and transferred to the Ada County Jail Tuesday, where he remained Wednesday night.
The crimes of grand theft and burglary are punishable by up to 14 and 10 years in prison. Watkins next court hearing is set for Dec. 5.
Watkins had a bandage on his right finger during his court appearance Wednesday. He answered questions clearly and said he worked as a general laborer for Progresso Soup "up until about a month ago."
The monkey's death has sparked outrage in the community and gained international attention. One Boise woman attended Watkins' court appearance with a sign that said "no mercy."
The Patas monkey arrived in Boise from Florida three years ago. It shared space with another Patas monkey that was unharmed in the incident. Zoo officials say the monkey is fine by itself for a short time but will need a long-term roommate to remain at the zoo.
Zoo Boise Director Steve Burns said Wednesday he should know more by next week.