Zoo monkey death: Father defends man accused of beating monkey to death at Idaho zoo, report says

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)
Michael Watkins faces felony burglary and grand theft charges after the death of a monkey at the Zoo Boise
AP Photo/Boise Police Department

(CBS/AP) BOISE, Idaho - The father of a 22-year-old man accused in the beating death of a monkey at an Idaho zoo said his son is "not a malicious monkey murderer" and believes the tragedy was a drunken prank that got out of hand.

Michael Watkins was arrested Monday and faces at least two felonies: burglary for allegedly breaking into Zoo Boise and grand theft for the alleged fatal beating death of a patas monkey. His first court appearance is set for Wednesday.

Authorities said the suspect entered Zoo Boise, took a patas monkey from its cage and beat it so severely it later died of blunt-force trauma to its head and neck.

Watkins' father, Jerry Watkins, defended his son to the Idaho Statesman, saying that friends of his son told him Michael Watkins was drunk when he broke in to the zoo and wanted to try to get a picture with the monkeys.

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

Watkins' stepmother, Susan Watkins, told the Statesman that Michael Watkins is also a new father. She said he did well in school and volunteered to help children in the summer.

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

Court records show Michael Watkins has been in trouble with the law several times since graduating from high school in 2008, including separate drug-related arrests in 2009 and 2010. He also has a conviction for driving under the influence in 2009.

Police said they don't know whether Watkins was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the break-in.

Watkins was moved from a county jail in Washington County to a detention facility in Ada County in Boise on Tuesday. Police don't plan to charge a second man who was with Watkins on Saturday morning but apparently never entered the zoo.

A tip led police to Watkins after identifying his hat as the same hat found in the monkey's enclosure after 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, which died on its way to the zoo's animal hospital.

No other animals were harmed.

Idaho law allows prosecutors to bring a grand theft charge against someone accused of killing livestock or other animals valued at more than $150.

Jerry Watkins told the Statesman his son is not an animal-hater. Michael Watkins had dogs while growing up and still mourns their deaths, including a couple of puppies that died of parvovirus.

"He cried and cried and cried over that situation," Jerry Watkins said. "I believe he's crying over this situation, too."

More on Crimesider
Nov. 20, 2012 - Michael Watkins, Idaho man, arrested after monkey's beating death at Boise zoo
Nov. 19, 2012 - Monkey at zoo in Idaho killed with blunt force trauma, police seek suspects