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Valdes Murder Witness Exiled, Muzzled

On the cover of the October 1999 PLN was an article describing the July 9, 1999 beating death of "X-Wing" prisoner Frank Valdes at the hands of Florida State Prison (FSP) guards. The day of the killing Valdes' partner and fellow X-Wing prisoner William Van Poyck wrote a letter to a Florida judge describing the incident in graphic detail.

Van Poyck and several other X-Wing prisoners were transferred to Union Correctional Institution shortly after the killing. State investigators said they wanted to prevent any witness intimidation or retaliation by FSP guards.

About two weeks later, in early August, Florida state DOC head Michael Moore instituted a temporary ban on face-to-face media interviews at the state's two highest security prisons: FSP (where Valdes was killed) and Union Correctional (where Van Poyck and other witnesses were stashed). Moore claimed that the media ban was sparked by the governor's concern for crime victims who are traumatized by criminals gaining celebrity status through TV interviews.

"With criminals committing notorious crimes," Moore wrote in a memo posted on the DOC's web site, "with the media eager to publicize them, and with more attention being given to the plight and rights of victims, we are obliged to review our [media access] policies."

"It's patently obvious what's going on," Randall Berg, director of the Florida Justice Institute in Miami told the Miami Sun-Sentinel. "Regarding the Valdes murder, they don't want the media in there because the media is uncovering dirty linen. Clearly the department doesn't enjoy the scrutiny going on.

After this and much more criticism, especially from Florida media, Moore rescinded the ban in the first week of October. However, in another stunning coincidence, the outspoken Van Poyck was transferred to a to supermax" Virginia prison, DOC officials announced October 5, for his own protection. Van Poyck was sentenced to death along with Valdes for his part in the 1987 shooting death of a Florida prison guard while the pair attempted to break another friend out of prison.

"We don't think it s a wise correction policy to incarcerate an inmate in our system who is involved in the death of one of our officers," Florida DOC spokesman C.J. Drake told the Palm Beach Post. It's being done for his safety and our security. We just can't take any chances."

Virginia's DOC chief, Ron Angelone, banned media interviews statewide in 1997, but last year rescinded the ban in all except the state's four highest security prisons -- including the "supermax" prison to which Van Poyck was transferred.

In addition to being a witness in the Valdes case, Van Poyck is a long time prisoner rights activist, a brilliant and effective pro se litigator and an outspoken and articulate critic of the Florida prison system. He has also been a contributing PLN writer.

Sources: Palm Beach Post, Miami Sun-Sentinel, Associated Press

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