Arkansas: A federal defamation lawsuit filed against the Dixie Chicks was dismissed on December 1, 2009 after a U.S. District judge found that singer Natalie Maines had not acted with “actual malice” when she posted comments on the band’s website suggesting a man was guilty of murder. Maines had claimed that Terry Hobbs was implicated in the death of his 8-year-old stepson, Stevie Branch, who was murdered with two other children in 1993. Three teenagers – Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin – were prosecuted and convicted for that crime, and Maines became convinced that the defendants, known as the West Memphis Three, deserved a new trial. Misskelley and Baldwin are serving life sentences, while Echols is on death row. They have maintained their innocence.
Arkansas: On December 9, 2009, Charles Lanell Williams, 41, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for beating his wife in the visiting room of the Clark County Jail. On May 19, Williams’ wife and child came to visit him at the facility. At the end of the visit he ran past jail guards and began beating his wife in front of their child. The reason for the assault is unknown. The 11-year sentence will be added to a 25-year term Williams was already serving for a drug conviction.
Brazil: On December 27, 2009, six men disguised as police officers and armed with rifles entered Rio de Janeiro’s Grajau neighborhood police station and freed 28 prisoners. The men pretended they were booking a prisoner and, without arousing suspicion, made their way to the cellblock where they overpowered two guards. They then unlocked five cells housing 30 prisoners. Two of the prisoners refused to leave. Three of the 28 escapees were captured nearby, but the rest remain at large. Police station commander Orlando Zaccone acknowledged that the incident revealed problems in the jail’s security measures.
Florida: On December 8, 2009, Lawrence Vieitez, a guard at the Escambia County Road Camp, was arrested for of-fering an unnamed prisoner Xanax in exchange for oral sex. The prisoner had previously reported a similar offer to Sher-iff’s officials, who fitted him with a listening device and sent him out on a work crew with Vieitez. Authorities arrested Vieitez when he repeated his offer of drugs for oral sex. He was placed on administrative leave and freed on $25,000 bail.
Georgia: Denita Shaw, 41, a former Fulton County jail guard, was arrested on a civil rights charge on December 11, 2009. She allegedly struck a prisoner in the head with a milk crate while he was handcuffed. Shaw was fired from the jail on August 29; following her arrest she was released on a non-monetary bond.
Idaho: Cody Vealton Thompson, 31, was sentenced to life in prison on December 22, 2009. He had been convicted the previous month for raping his cellmate in September 2008. Thompson also received a life sentence for being a persis-tent offender, plus a 2 1/2 year sentence for intimidating a witness. This is the first time in Idaho history that a male pris-oner has been convicted of raping another male prisoner.
Illinois: James Fuller and Aaron Cook escaped from the Peoria County Jail on November 17, 2009. Fuller spent more than a year patiently chipping away at concrete on the ceiling of his cell; when the hole was finally large enough, he and Cook made good their escape via the jail’s roof. Both were captured shortly after their escape. Cook was found within 24 hours at a friend’s house, while Fuller was tracked down using the GPS feature on a cell phone he had stolen.
Illinois: A 37-year-old prisoner at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center was shot and killed on the evening of Decem-ber 15, 2009. The fatal shooting ended a seven-hour standoff during which prisoner Alonje Walton held an unidentified 62-year-old female employee hostage. Walton was serving time for aggravated criminal sexual assault and kidnapping; the hostage-taking incident is being investigated by the state police.
Kentucky: On September 20, 2009, Joshua Vittitoe, 25, was booked into the Louisville Metro Corrections Center on various charges. Guards failed to notice during booking that he had a quantity of Xanax pills concealed on his person. Within 24 hours after Vittitoe’s arrival at the jail, guards began to notice a number of prisoners displaying odd behavior, including being lethargic and disoriented. Jail guards and police officers searched the facility, found a number of the Xanax pills, and began questioning prisoners. Last October, Vittitoe was charged with one count of trafficking narcotics and 49 counts of wanton endangerment. Prisoner Adrian Cook, 25, was charged with possession of narcotics and related offenses. Forty-nine other prisoners face charges of promoting contraband and drug trafficking for consuming the pills.
Mississippi: On December 16, 2009, Dr. Kentrell Liddell, 35, former Chief Medical Officer for the Mississippi DOC, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of embezzlement. Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Malcom Harrison sentenced her to 10 years in prison but suspended all but two years. Harrison also imposed a $5,000 fine and $94,745 in restitution to the MDOC, as well as court costs. Liddell reported to prison on January 4, 2010, but her attorney has asked the court to mod-ify her sentence and place her on house arrest. PLN previously reported Liddell’s arrest and indictment. [See: PLN, Nov. 2009, p.44].
New Mexico: In December 2009 it was reported that Reyna Lujan, 29, formerly a guard at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque, had been charged with three counts of criminal sexual penetration for having sex with prisoner Erik Braman, 29, on numerous occasions between November 2008 and January 2009. Jail officials discovered their sex-ual relationship when they received a tip from an informant and monitored phone calls from Braman to Lujan’s cell phone. Lujan is allegedly pregnant with Braman’s child, and Braman moved in with her following his release. Lujan was placed on administrative leave in March and resigned several weeks later due to “complications” with her pregnancy.
North Carolina: Tina Lynn Devore, 42, a former counselor at the Craggy Correctional Center north of Asheville, was indicted on December 7, 2009 on charges of having sex with a prisoner. She is accused of engaging in sexual relations with David Lee Williams, who is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder. Devore was employed as a substance abuse counselor for the NC DOC; she resigned last April.
Oklahoma: On December 26, 2009, a fire broke out in a supply closet at the Key Correctional Facility. All 174 prison-ers in the unit were moved to the gym. The blaze was quickly contained, and no injuries were reported. The cause of the fire is unknown.
Philippines: In the early morning hours of December 13, 2009, suspected Islamic militants knocked down a con-crete wall with sledge hammers and used bolt cutters on padlocks at the provincial jail in Isabela City to free several detained Muslim guerrillas. Approximately 70 heavily-armed men were involved. At least 31 prisoners managed to es-cape with the men into the nearby jungle. One militant and a guard were killed during a brief gun battle following the mass break-out. The run-down jail has had a history of escapes, most notably when three militants accused of behead-ing 10 marines escaped by overpowering guards in December 2008.
Tennessee: On November 23, 2009, 24-year-old Joshua Ryan Jones and 40-year-old Roger Forrester, former guards at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, pleaded guilty in federal court to civil rights and obstruction of justice charges. Jones and Forester admitted they had kicked and punched a handcuffed prisoner on April 15, 2008, and then lied about the incident during a subsequent investigation. They face up to six years in prison and a $350,000 fine.
Texas: Texas prisoner Jerry Duane Martin was sentenced to death on December 8, 2009 for the murder of TDCJ guard Susan Canfield, 59, during his short-lived escape from the Wynne Unit in September 2007 [See: PLN, April 2008, p.16]. State officials agreed to reimburse Walker County for all legal fees incurred in prosecuting the capital case, which are expected to exceed $450,000. Prisoner John Ray Falk, who escaped with Martin, is awaiting trial on similar charges.
Texas: Dallas County jail guard Kytrina Lewis resigned on December 9, 2009 during an investigation into an inci-dent in which jail prisoner Gregory Miller performed a sexually suggestive dance for her behind her desk. “He was mov-ing his hips in a circular slow motion and motioning his body in a sexually erotic way as if he were a male dancer,” stated guard Jerkeithra Hawkins, who reported the incident. Lewis was also accused of bringing a CD player into the jail and giving Miller her cell phone, which contained pictures of her.
Texas: On December 25, 2009, Nacogdoches County jail prisoner Lesedric McClain stabbed an unidentified jailer in the forehead with a ball-point pen, above the right eye. A portion of the pen broke off inside the guard’s head, just missing his brain. The jail guard was reportedly in “relatively good condition” after being hospitalized following the attack. McClain, who fought with two other guards, now faces charges of first degree felony aggravated assault.
Vermont: College student Kellye Stephens, 23, was sentenced to 30 days in jail on December 8, 2009, for sending an innocent man to prison for three months. Stephens created fake e-mails containing death threats that she claimed were sent by Rick Anderson, a man she had once met and then chatted with online. She created the false e-mails and had Anderson jailed because she said she feared him, though he had never done anything remotely threatening or dan-gerous. Anderson and prosecutor Tom Kelly stated they were disappointed that Stephens was not required to spend 92 days in jail – the same amount of time that Anderson had served due to her lies. Anderson recently settled a lawsuit with the insurance company for Stephens’ family, for $10,000.
Washington: Two Franklin County jail guards, Kevin Still and Sonya Symons, were arrested and charged with federal drug conspiracy offenses in October 2009. Symons’ brother, Troy Green, also was arrested. Apparently the trio used con-nections with former prisoners to try to become marijuana dealers. Authorities apprehended them based on evidence gathered by a confidential informant. Still and Symons, who live together, have been suspended from their jail positions without pay.
West Virginia: On December 6, 2009, USP Hazelton was locked down following a brawl among six federal prisoners that resulted in one death. Prisoner Jimmy Lee Wilson, 26, was killed and the other five prisoners involved in the fight suf-fered non-serious injuries. According to Warden James Cross the incident was racially motivated, though he would not disclose the identity or ethnicity of the prisoners involved. He said the U.S. Attorney’s office and FBI were investigating and plan to prosecute at least some of the prisoners based on surveillance video of the incident.
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