Friday, May 7, 2021
May 7, 2021

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Man arrested in Idaho monkey killing

Suspect's family, police have questions about what led to attack

The Columbian

BOISE, Idaho — A 22-year-old man who police say killed a monkey after breaking into the Boise zoo has had run-ins with the law in the last three years that include a pair of drug arrests and a conviction for driving drunk.

A day after Michael J. Watkins’ arrest, authorities attempted to answer what may have prompted the once-promising wrestler from western Idaho to enter the facility early Saturday and what he planned to do with the animal, officials said.

Members of the community and Watkins’ family also were trying to determine what could have led to the attack and why someone would do such a thing. His mother, Susan Watkins, said in a brief interview Tuesday from her home in McCall that as much as the public is perplexed by what happened, “I am too. That’s all I can say.”

She declined further comment. Other family members didn’t return phone calls.

Authorities allege the suspect entered Zoo Boise, took a patas monkey from its cage and beat it so severely it later died of head and neck injuries. He faces an arraignment hearing Wednesday in 4th District Court, where authorities say they’ll charge him with at least two felonies: burglary, for allegedly breaking into Zoo Boise, and grand theft, for taking and killing the monkey.

Arrested Monday, Michael J. Watkins was moved from a jail in Washington county to a detention facility in Ada County in Boise on Tuesday.

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.

Police don’t plan to charge a second man who was with Watkins on Saturday morning, but apparently never entered the zoo.

A tip from a citizen led police to Watkins after that person identified a hat found in the monkey’s enclosure as similar to one Watkins was wearing the night two intruders were spotted at Zoo Boise, one inside and one outside the fence.

A security guard frightened away the intruders, and then discovered the gravely injured patas monkey. Zoo officials and police were able to get the animal into a crate and to the zoo’s animal hospital, but the monkey died of blunt-force trauma to its head and neck just a few minutes later.

No other animals were harmed.

Boise Police Chief Michael Masterson said at a news conference Monday evening that Watkins sought care at a hospital for injuries to his upper torso sometime after the early Saturday incident. The story he gave to hospital staff “did not seem to mesh up with the injuries,” Masterson said.

The monkey’s death has left zoo workers shocked and devastated, zoo director Steve Burns said.

Investigators had not had a chance to question Watkins extensively and have not revealed whether they think the zoo break-in was a prank that turned violent or something done with more sinister intent. But the police department and community are “angered and outraged over this senseless crime,” Masterson said.

“The loss of this patas monkey has touched many lives, including our officers and investigators,” he said.

Police say Watkins was visiting Boise with friends over the weekend from his home in Fruitland, about 60 miles away near the Oregon-Idaho border.

In 2008, Watkins finished in third place in the state championship wrestling tournament for small schools like his, Fruitland High School. He competed in the 130-pound division.

Julia Stroebel, who said she went to high school with Watkins in Fruitland, told The Associated Press that she is aware people who know the suspect are upset about the attack. However, she believes others also agree with her that the level of outrage over the monkey’s death is unfounded.

“We’ve had a couple murders happen in the area, brutal murders, in fact,” Stroebel said. “They didn’t get as much attention as a monkey dying. It seems sort of ridiculous.”