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Prosecutor: Theft was motive in monkey killing

Associated Press
This booking photo provided by Boise Police Department shows Michael J. Watkins on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. Police in Idaho say Watkins, 22, is facing felony burglary and grand theft charges after the death of a monkey at the Boise zoo. The patas monkey was found dead of blunt force trauma to the head and neck early Saturday morning, shortly after a zoo security guard frightened away two male intruders. (AP Photo/Boise Police Department)
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Prosecutors said Wednesday that the man accused of killing a monkey at Boise's zoo hoped to steal the animal before he was bitten and clubbed it to death with a tree branch.

Michael J. Watkins, 22, entered Zoo Boise on Saturday morning, manipulated a lock to get into the primate enclosure and removed the patas monkey by wrapping it in his jacket, Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Fafa Alidjani told reporters after Watkins was arraigned in Boise's 4th District Court.

Watkins isn't scheduled to enter a plea on his felony burglary and grand theft charges until a preliminary hearing Dec. 5.

"He told police he was going to throw the monkey outside the fence," Alidjani said. When he failed, the monkey bit him, prompting Watkins to use a tree branch to bash the monkey in the head and neck, she said.

A security guard spotted the intruder, who ran, and the animal died a short time after it was found by zoo officials.

If he's convicted, Watkins faces up to 10 years in prison for the burglary charge and 14 years in prison for the grand theft charge. Idaho law allows prosecutors to bring a grand theft charge against someone accused of killing livestock or other animals valued at more than $150 dollars.

Judge Henry Boomer refused a bid by Watkins' public defender, Gary Reedy, to reduce bail from $150,000 to $10,000.

Alidjani had argued that the bail shouldn't be reduced because Watkins has a history of drug and drunken driving arrests and probation violations.

"Say no more," Boomer told her. "I'm denying the request."

Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson has said he doesn't expect others to be charged in the case, but Watkins' lawyer suggested to the judge that at least one other individual entered the zoo with Watkins.

"They opened a door and the monkey was released," Reedy said, using "they" repeatedly. "There was a scuffle. The monkey was injured."

Watkins broke into the zoo after a night of grief-fueled drinking, Reedy said: An aunt had recently died, and Watkins' grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer only days before. So he went into Boise for a night out with friends and family.

"He was taking it very hard," Reedy said. "He became intoxicated."

Watkins, who over the grainy courthouse video system used for arraignments appeared to have a bandage on his right hand, spoke clearly when Boomer questioned him about his ability to pay for an attorney.

He told the judge he didn't own property or a car and had left a job working at a Progresso Soup factory in the region about a month ago, though he was due to begin work at another factory job two days after the zoo incident.

"I was a general laborer," he said, describing his work at the soup factory. "I bagged onions."

Watkins' girlfriend gave birth to his son about four weeks ago.

Watkins' stepmother, Susan Watkins, told the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday that he did well at Fruitland High School before graduating in 2008, even volunteering to help children in the summer.

"He was a good kid. He's my baby. I love him," she said.

His father, Jerry Watkins, said he can't believe his son entered the zoo wanting to do the monkey harm.

"He's not a malicious monkey murderer," Watkins said. "I'm thinking the monkey attacked him and he just tried to defend himself. I don't think he ever intended to kill it; he's just not that kind of guy."

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