Man pleads guilty in death of monkey at Boise zoo

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A man charged with beating a monkey to death with a tree branch at Boise's zoo last fall has pleaded guilty to animal cruelty.

Michael Watkins, 22, of Weiser, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors Tuesday for his role in the Nov. 17 death of one of Zoo Boise's two Patas monkeys.

Watkins pleaded guilty to one felony count of attempted grand theft and a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty. In return, Ada County prosecutors dropped felony charges of grand theft and burglary.

Watkins faces up to seven years in prison for the felony and six months incarceration on the animal cruelty charge. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 16 by 4th District Judge Lynn Norton.

Watkins had initially pleaded not guilty. In interviews with police, he said the monkey attacked him as he was trying to set it free after he entered the zoo in the early morning hours. He said he hit the monkey in the head in self-defense.

But prosecutors alleged Watkins tried to steal the monkey after a night of heavy drinking. During earlier court hearings, prosecutors said Watkins manipulated a lock to get into the primate enclosure and removed the monkey by wrapping it in a jacket.

The monkey's death stirred shock and outrage, but it also caused concern among zoo officials about the welfare of the surviving monkey. Patas monkeys are extremely social and the prospect of having it live alone led zoo officials to consider shipping it to another zoo.

Instead, the Rosamund Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y., donated two companions in December.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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