A 22-year-old Weiser man accused of killing a Patas monkey at the Boise Zoo in November pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony charge of attempted grand theft and misdemeanor count of animal cruelty.
A jury trial set for later this spring is cancelled. A sentencing hearing is now set for May 16 in front of 4th District Judge Lynn Norton.
In exchange for the guilty pleas, Ada County prosecutors dropped felony charges of grand theft and burglary. There is no deal on a proposed sentence. 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. Watkins can argue for less including probation.
Watkins told Boise police last fall he was trying to set the Patas monkey free in the early morning hours of Nov. 17 when it attacked him and he bludgeoned it with a tree branch, according to court records.
But a friend who was with Watkins that morning told police Watkins was trying to steal the animal when he broke into the zoo, Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Fafa Alidjani said in November.
Watkins, who said he acted in self defense, also blamed the monkeys death on his friend when he talked to police in November, but the man denies being involved, according to testimony from probable cause hearing obtained by the Idaho Statesman.
The friend 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, according to court records.
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 ran away. Police and zoo staff found the injured monkey by the outside fence while searching for the men, according to court records.
Public defender Gary Reedy said in November the 22-year-old 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.
Watkins' father told the Idaho Statesman in November that he suspected the death was a result of 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.
Court records indicate 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 slide lock 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 led police to arrest Watkins Nov. 19. 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.
The Patas monkey who died, Cratey, arrived in Boise from Florida three years ago. It shared space with another male Patas monkey, Incus, that was unharmed in the incident.
Since the attack, the zoo got two new female Patas monkeys, DJ and Kibibi, from the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York.
The monkeys have been living in the same enclosure since February, and everything seems to be fine, Boise Zoo Director Steve Burns said Thursday
"They're together all the time," Burns said.
Plans for a new Patas monkey exhibit have been submitted to the city, and the zoo is waiting on a building permit. Target date for beginning construction is May 1, with a hoped-for opening date sometime in August.