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Wisconsin Prisoner Pleads No Contest to Helping Cellmate Commit Suicide

On June 1, 2010, a Wisconsin prisoner entered a no-contest plea to charges that he helped his cellmate hang himself.

Adam Peterson, 20, and Joshua Walters, 21, were unlikely acquaintances. Peterson, never in trouble with the law before, was serving a life sentence for murder at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupan.

Peterson’s life had gone off track while he was in college. He developed a mental illness, dropped out of school, and one day wandered into the home of a Madison man. Peterson stabbed the man to death with a paring knife.

Walters, unlike Peterson, had been in and out of prison. His latest stint at Waupan was for a parole violation on a previous burglary charge.

Peterson had tried to kill himself multiple times after his arrest. While awaiting trial, for example, he attempted to hang himself in the shower, but another prisoner notified guards who thwarted the suicide attempt.

Shortly before sentencing, Peterson was transferred to Waupan. Walters was his cellmate. Waupan was supposed to have been a better place for Peterson, who told his family that he liked going to the prison’s gym and library. He was even looking forward to his first contact visit with family members.

But on January 10, 2009, Walters shouted out from his cell, “I think my celly’s dead!” And Peterson was indeed dead – he had hung himself with a noose crafted from a bed sheet.

Walters claimed that he woke up and found Peterson hanging. But prosecutors, who later charged him with assisting in Peterson’s suicide, painted a different picture.

Based on testimony from Justin Quednow, a career criminal turned jailhouse snitch, they claimed Walters had helped and encouraged Peterson to commit suicide. According to Quednow, Walters told him that “he always wanted to watch somebody hang and kill their self and he ... was just sitting there in his bunk and watching [Peterson] while he was dying.”

Walters pleaded no-contest to the charge instead of going to trial. “I got up and tied the bed sheet real, real tight on the end of the bed” for Peterson, Walters admitted. “I said, ‘Do what you do. I’m going to bed.’” When he woke up, Peterson had hung himself.

Walters was sentenced on June 11, 2010 to 27 months in prison followed by 27 months of post-release supervision. He apologized to Peterson’s family at the sentencing hearing.

Sources: Associated Press, www.fox11online.com