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Judge extends zookeeper’s deadline to challenge convictions

FILE – This file photo provided by the Santa Rosa County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic.” Maldonado-Passage was convicted in an unsuccessful murder-for-hire plot against Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue, who he has repeatedly accused of killing her husband Jack “Don” Lewis. Lewis’ unsolved 1997 disappearance and Maldonado-Passage’s accusations are the subject of new Netflix series “Tiger King.” (Santa Rosa County Jail via AP, File)

FILE – This file photo provided by the Santa Rosa County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic.” Maldonado-Passage was convicted in an unsuccessful murder-for-hire plot against Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue, who he has repeatedly accused of killing her husband Jack “Don” Lewis. Lewis’ unsolved 1997 disappearance and Maldonado-Passage’s accusations are the subject of new Netflix series “Tiger King.” (Santa Rosa County Jail via AP, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A former Oklahoma zookeeper who was sentenced to 22 years in prison for a murder-for-hire plot and federal wildlife violations has been granted an extra month to argue why his lawsuit challenging the convictions shouldn’t be dismissed.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” filed a federal lawsuit last month against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted him and several witnesses. He’s seeking nearly $94 million in damages, claiming that he was convicted based on false and perjured testimony.

A federal judge decided to recommend dismissing his lawsuit and provided an April 28 deadline for objection filing.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Scott Palk extended that deadline to May 28 after Maldonado-Passage provided a handwritten letter requesting at least 30 days to respond, The Oklahoman reported Friday.

In the letter, Maldonado-Passage writes that he’s being isolated at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, with “(no access to a computer, phone, email or library).”

A jury last April convicted Maldonado-Passage for trying to arrange the killing of Carole Baskin, a Florida animal sanctuary founder who criticized his treatment of animals. She wasn’t harmed.

The former zookeeper, who maintains his innocence, was also sentenced for killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying wildlife records.

Maldonado-Passage is prominently featured in the recently released Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”

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