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Arizona Death Row Chain Gang Problems

In December, 1995, Arizona's governor Fife Symington launched a program placing death row prisoners on a chain gang working in the prison's vegetable garden [Reported in the March '96 issue of PLN]. According to an Arizona newspaper report there have been two violent incidents involving death row prisoners on the chain gang. As is typical with corporate media, they reported only the version of the incident(s) given them by a prison spokesperson. Prison official Mike Arra recounted that on December 20, 1995, one prisoner was grazed in the cheek by a birdshot pellet fired to break up a quarrel.

Arra said the second incident occurred on January 10, 1996, when a fight broke out between prisoners Jake Hughes, 33, and Aryon Williams, 34. "A mounted corrections officer, who was armed with a shotgun ordered Hughes and Williams to stop fighting, but they ignored his repeated orders," Arra said. "The officer then fired a warning shot to get their attention. Williams raised his arms over his head, but Hughes took the opportunity to choke Williams with a handle of a hoe. The officer then shot Hughes below one knee, hitting him with more than 50 birdshot pellets. One pellet struck Williams in the leg." PLN has received first-hand information from Arizona prisoners which offers a different version. According to one prisoner, "You must understand that the newspaper here doesn't report everything that happens."

In regards to the December 10th incident in which Arra claims one prisoner was merely grazed in the cheek: "The newspaper reported only one prisoner was shot, when four were shot! One was pretty bad. Three pellets cannot be removed from that prisoner's back because they are too close to his spinal cord. The newspaper won't print that because it may cause people to rethink working death row prisoners (on the chain gang)."

Sources: Reader Mail, Arizona Republic 1/11/96

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