Admitted monkey killer gets 7 years, plus rider

kterhune@idahostatesman.comMay 16, 2013 

Michael Watkins is arraigned at the Ada County Courthouse Thursday Jan. 18, 2013. Watkins is charged with felony burglary and grand theft in the killing of a Patas monkey at the Boise Zoo last November.

CHRIS BUTLER — cbutler@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

— Michael J. Watkins may only have to serve a year in prison for killing a Zoo Boise Patas monkey.

Watkins was sentenced Thursday to serve up to 7 years in prison for attempted grand theft. But Judge Lynn Norton placed him on retained jurisdiction, meaning he will first serve a nine- to 12-month treatment program that could make him eligible for release afterward.

If Watkins served the full sentence, he would be eligible for parole after two years. He also faces a possible six-month jail sentence for animal cruelty; it wasn't clear Thursday how that would combine with the prison time.

"I know my actions were selfish, and they impacted Zoo Boise and the public and Boise itself," he said as he apologized to the court for the killing.

Defense attorneys had asked for Watkins to simply serve probation, while prosecutors had sought 7 1/2 years with no eligibility for parole.

Zoo staff found the animal, a Patas monkey named Cratey, early on the morning of Nov. 17 while investigating a break-in. Watkins has given several accounts over time regarding the circumstances of the monkey's death.

Prosecutor Shawna Dunn refuted Watkins’ claim that the killing was a drunken prank by using a map to illustrate the distance Watkins covered and the time between releasing Cratey and the monkey’s death.

“It was not a momentary or short-lived event,” she said. “It seems like a little voice would tell you that this isn’t fun anymore.”

Watkins and a friend broke into the zoo in November and broke a lock to release Cratey. As Watkins attempted to steal the animal, it bit him. Watkins then kicked the monkey several times before chasing it down, spraying it with a fire extinguisher, beating it with a stick, and attempting to fling it over an barbed wire fence on the perimeter of the zoo.

Watkins continued to beat the monkey after it was no longer moving, according to a witness.

In a necropsy, Cratey was determined to have massive amounts of bruising on his head, throat and body, as well as bleeding between his brain and skull, Dunn said. Dunn added that the monkey was clearly struck more than the few times Watkins originally asserted.

“He drug himself down the fence line and lay there moaning until zookeepers found him,” she said. “That’s the condition that Mr. Watkins leaves him in.”

Dunn also read excerpts from a victim impact letter from Zoo Boise Director Steve Burns that described the impact Cratey’s death had on the community.

In the letter, Burns questioned how zoo employees would explain to visiting children what had happened. It would be a difficult subject to explain to the youngest zoo visitors, he asserted.

“There are people who lack regard for life itself,” he wrote. “The zoo may feel less safe to [children] now, and if it does, their world may feel less safe.”

Dunn argued that it was important for Watkins’ case to act as a deterrent to others.

“This was senseless conduct with violence towards an animal,” she said. The prosecution asked Norton to impose the maximum sentence for both charges.

The defense asked the judge for lenience, and argued that Watkins should receive probation. Defense attorney Brian Marks spoke about Watkins’ background and ongoing health and family issues. Watkins' grandmother had fallen ill shortly before the break-in, and died while he was in jail.

Watkins also has a 7-month-old son, Marks said. Marks argued that his client had been punished enough by missing his grandmother's final days and the first days with his son. In addition, the international media attention the case has received has created a stigma that would be difficult to escape, Marks said.

“(Watkins) will forever be known as the man who killed a monkey at Zoo Boise,” Marks said. “He will now have a felony conviction that will follow him for life.”

Marks pointed to Watkins’ history with depression and alcohol dependency as contributing to his errors in judgment, and said the man was working to overcome his addiction.

“He understands now more than ever that alcohol can not be the way he handles stressors in his life,” he said.

But Norton was not swayed.

“When you learn time is limited with other people, the proper response is not to go out drinking,” she said.

She also noted that Watkins had completed outpatient rehabilitation for alcohol five months before the attack and had repeated misconduct violations while in jail.

“There were a number of places you could have made different decisions,” she told Watkins. “You kept engaging until you killed this animal.”

In addition to the prison time, Norton ordered Watkins to pay restitution and have no contact with Zoo Boise.

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