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Federal Guard Convicted, Facing Life for Conspiracy Leading to Prisoner's Death

Michael Brodheim

In a rare prosecution of a corrections officer, a Florida federal jury convicted 33-year-old Erin Sharma of conspiring with fellow guard Michael Kennedy to deprive prisoner Richard Delano, 40, of his civil rights by setting in motion events which led to Delano's death in March 2005. When the verdict was handed down on July 29, 2009, Sharma was taken into custody. She faces a potential life sentence when she is sentenced by Senior U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawsett on October 26th.

A volatile mix of prison politics and trivial provocation led to Delano's death at the hands of John McCullah, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood ("AB") looking to earn his "bones" by murdering a fellow prisoner. Guards Sharma and Kennedy had recommended that Delano, a suspected snitch, be moved into McCullah's cell in the Special Housing Unit of the maximum-security Coleman Federal Correctional complex. The prosecution argued that Sharma was motivated to do this because she wanted to get even with Delano for a previous encounter in which she had suffered bruising when Delano grabbed her arm through a food slot in his cell. According to the prosecution, Sharma knew that Delano was suspected of being a snitch and that McCullah -- nicknamed "Animal" -- was a notoriously violent AB gang member who hated snitches.

Prisoner testimony was presented that Sharma was friendly with McCullah and that she had shown McCullah the bruise she had received from Delano, suggesting apparently that this somehow gave McCullah additional incentive to take out his aggressions on Delano. Whatever his motivations, McCullah viciously assaulted Delano, beating him into a coma from which he died almost two weeks later.

In addition to prisoner testimony, the prosecution presented the testimony of FBI Special Agent James Raby, to whom Sharma allegedly made a number of incriminating statements. The defense challenged Raby's truthfulness, but to no avail.

Source: "Jury finds Erin Sharma guilty on both criminal counts" by Suevon Lee, Star Barmer, July 29, 2009.

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