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Jury Finds for Corcoran Guards in Prisoner Rape Suit

On Tuesday, October 21, 2003, a
jury found four employees at California State Prison, Corcoran not responsible for the rape of prisoner Eddie Webb Dillard by a fellow prisoner. The verdict was read by District Judge Anthony W. Ishii, following a four week trial and six hours of deliberation by the seven member jury.

Dillard charged in the federal civil rights trial that guards Robert Decker, Anthony Sylva, Joe Sanchez, and former medical assistant Kathy Horton-Plant arranged and then covered up his rapes by Wayne Robertson, a convicted murderer notorious for sexually assaulting prisoners. Dillard contended the rapes, which took place over two days in March of 1993, were arranged to punish him for kicking a female guard at another prison.

The Fresno Bee reported on the defendants', jurors', and lawyers' comments outside the courtroom. Sylva expressed disappointment in the California Department of Corrections. "Mr. Robertson should have been on single-cell status long before Eddie Dillard," Sylva said, saying the California Department of Corrections was "negligent" for allowing the two men to be placed in the same cell. "The CDC not only failed him (Dillard), it failed us," he said.

Robert L. Bastian, one of Dillard's lawyers, agreed with Sylva's comments, but added "Someone needs to be held responsible. This is not just one incident. This is about a lot of problems in the CDC." He and co-counsel Marina R. Dini said they planned to pursue a new trial. "We'll do everything we can for this gentleman. This gentleman deserves justice," Bastian said.

Sanchez, who is still employed by the CDC said, "I'm just glad it's over. I can get on with my life and career." Horton-Plant, who was accused of covering up the attacks and has since retired, said she was ready to return home to Texas.

Decker, whom Dillard says ordered the move into Robertson's cell, declined to comment. Decker, Sylva, Sanchez, and one other Corcoran guard were acquitted by a Kings County jury in 1999 of criminal charges in the same case.

Only one juror, Grace Alcaraz, chose to speak to the Fresno Bee. She said the deliberation was intense, and the verdict "a very difficult decision." She said, "My heart goes out to Dillard. . . but I had to go by the evidence."

Lara Stemple, executive director of the nonprofit human rights group Stop Prisoner Rape said, "If the jury felt the evidence wasn't compelling enough to find the officers negligent, it only underscores the problematic nature of the way our judicial system treats prisoner rape."

In March 1993, Dillard was a 118-pound, young Los Angeles gang member serving a ten year sentence at Corcoran for assault with a deadly weapon and robbery. Robertson was 220 pounds, serving a life sentence, and CDC records document at least 25 reported instances of Robertson assaulting or raping cellmates over a fourteen-year period. Dillard claims he told Sylva and Sanchez he did not want to be in a cell with Robertson, and according to affidavits by CDC's own investigators, Robertson was listed in prison records as an enemy of Dillard. Former guards supported Dillard's claim through testimony that the defendants knew Robertson was a sexual predator and would harm Dillard. However, Robertson took the court by surprise by claiming he never raped Dillard and that he had made up the story with Dillard.

In the 1999 criminal trial, Robertson testified that he did rape Dillard, and that the guards knew that it would happen. The defendants' attorneys told the court their clients had no knowledge of Robertson's sexually violent behavior and were not responsible for Dillard's transfer into Robertson's cell. Decker was off duty at the time of Dillard's transfer, and Sylva and Sanchez both denied that Dillard voiced any opposition to being placed in Robertson's cell. Bastian called their claims "denial, upon denial, upon denial."

The CDC's own investigation of the criminal case determined that "Decker, Sanchez, Sylva and Horton had acted outside the scope of their employment, acted with actual malice," according to a sworn statement filed in Kings County Superior Court in 2001. The CDC decided not to provide a defense for the guards as a result, but when the prison Guards' union notified CDC that it was required under state law to provide a defense, the CDC agreed to do so. Any damages awarded to Dillard would have been paid by CDC.

In the 1990's Corcoran was considered the nation's most deadly prison, when forty-three prisoners were wounded and seven shot to death by guards from 1989 to 1995. All Corcoran guards prosecuted on criminal chargesat least a dozen since 1990have been found innocent. g

Paige Welch is an intern with Stop Prisoner Rape.

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