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North Carolina Prisoner Who Sustained Injuries in Suspicious Circumstances Dies

A North Carolina state prisoner who was found in his segregation cell with a smashed skull in August 2008 has died. The cause of his injuries, officially, remains unknown.

Alexander Correctional Institution prisoner Timothy Helms, 49, died in the early morning hours of September 5, 2010, at the Kindred Hospital, a long-term acute care facility that treats state prisoners. Helms had been at the Kindred Hospital because his injuries rendered him bedridden.

With an IQ of only 79, Helms took special education classes until he dropped out of high school at 16. He had been diagnosed with multiple psychiatric disorders and was frequently admitted to state mental facilities.

A 1994 drunk-driving collision that resulted in three deaths ended in three convictions of second-degree murder with a life sentence on each count. Helms did not adjust well to prison. Over a 14-year period, he received 125 rule infractions which ranged from threatening staff to hoarding 84 postage stamps.

In that time, he served 1,459 days in segregation. Despite prison policy prohibiting prisoners to be in isolation for more than 60 days, Helms served 571 consecutive days in isolation with only a few hours out-of-cell time to shower or to use a recreation cage. While in segregation, Helms repeatedly cut himself with a razor and would bang his head against the wall.

He used two batteries and a scrap of metal to set his bedding afire on August 3, 2008. The security video shows guards dragging Helms out of the smoke-filled cell into a shower. He was later carried to at least two other cells.

Guards took him to a local medical center the next day. A doctor noted Helms had bruises and welts on his body “consistent with multiple blows from a Billy club.” X-rays also revealed blood hemorrhaging inside his brain stem, a broken nose, and a fractured skull. The injuries left Helms bedridden, unable to walk, barely able to speak, and unable to do simple tasks such as feeding himself.

An investigation did not determine how Helms received his injuries, but North Carolina Department of Corrections Secretary Alvin Keller, Jr. believes he fell and hit his head. Prison officials have strenuously denied that Helms was beaten by guards or that they carry batons, yet the video showed the guards who moved Helms the night he was injured had black batons hanging from their belts.

Prior to his injuries, Helms had told a prison psychologist that guards were abusing him. Following his injuries, he told his doctors and news reporters that he was beaten by guards with Billy clubs. His family was not advised of the situation until reporters contacted them six months after the incident that led to his hospitalization.

Helms’ death came as a surprise. “We’re shocked,” said his lawyer Lynne Holtkamp, who had visited him in the last month. “There was no indication he was ill beyond his normal condition or that death was imminent.”

Keller has said a law enforcement investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, but he has refused to release the report on the matter.

Source: Charlotte Observer

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