Walter Palmer, the wealthy big-game hunter and Minnesota dentist who killed a famous lion, could be headed back to Africa if the Zimbabwe government has its way, the Washington Post reports. Officials in Zimbabwe said they intended to press ahead with a request to extradite Palmer for killing a lion known as Cecil outside a sanctuary where the animal was protected. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said a representative for Palmer “voluntarily reached out to the service” and that its “investigation is ongoing.” Legal experts said Palmer doesn't have many options to fight a return to Zimbabwe to face trial. “Once Zimbabwe provides a charge, it depends on how fast the U.S. moves,” said Stephen Vladeck, an American University law professor who specializes in international affairs.
Palmer's lawyers could cite the poor condition of Zimbabwe's prisons, a humanitarian concern, as a reason to deny extradition. The prisons were recently described as a “hellhole” by the Zimbabwe Independent, a daily business newspaper. “I think it could factor into the State Department's analysis,” said Jens David Ohlin, an expert in international and criminal law at Cornell University. U.S. officials “could decide the prison conditions are too harsh and we don't want our citizens to spend time in jail there.”The extradition process could take years to play out. If a federal court approves Zimbabwe's request to extradite him, Palmer could appeal the decision. If he were to lose on appeal, the State Department would make the final decision. Ohlin said the State Department would be hard-pressed to turn down a formal extradition request from Zimbabwe. If it did, Zimbabwe could become a sanctuary for criminals who flee crimes committed in the United States.