Idaho has suspended a program that placed violent offenders from state prisons into privileged positions in local county jails.
The change brings bad news to the Kootenai County Jail, which currently has 12 state prisoners serving as trusties.
Idaho Corrections Director Jim Spalding said the move came in response to news reports about a Canyon County murderer who was serving his time as a maintenance worker in Shoshone County.
It also comes one year after Danny Ray Aeschliman, convicted in Coeur d’Alene of murder by torture for beating his wife to death, was moved out of a trusty position in the Cassia County Jail.
Aeschliman was sent back to prison only after his victim’s family protested and sent a letter to the governor.
“The department won’t deal with that program any longer,” Spalding said. “We’ll pull the violent offenders out.”
The program’s demise came as a relief to Helen Garcia, whose daughter was killed by Aeschliman in August 1993.
Garcia and her husband gathered more than 2,500 signatures to get the killer sent back to prison rather than let him serve his time as a trusty - a job that allows much more freedom than most inmates get.
“They can’t be trusted,” Garcia said Friday. “I don’t think anybody that would harm another person or a child should be a trusty. If he was sentenced to prison that is where he should be - not in the county jail.”
For the past nine years, the Kootenai County Jail has depended on the trusties to do the inmates’ laundry, serve them food, wash dishes and keep the jail clean. Other inmates work in the county shop as mechanics, wash county cars and keep up the sheriff’s office lawn.
“The tasks that these people are doing are tasks that have to be done on a regular basis, most of it on a daily basis,” said Lt. Sam Grubbs. “This decision will have a significant effect on the jail’s current operation.”
Trusties washed 23 tons of laundry last month alone. They put in 41,000 hours of work during 1995 and saved the county $184,000 in labor costs, Grubbs said.
All but two of Kootenai County’s trusties are sex offenders, according to state prison records.
However, the Kootenai County Jail has never accepted a murderer and has turned away inmates that it deemed unsuitable, Grubbs said.
The Shoshone County inmate was serving time under a different program, through which the state contracted with the Shoshone County Jail for 14 inmate beds. The murderer, Steve Waddell, stabbed his 17-year-old girlfriend to death in 1988 in a college dorm room in front of several witnesses, apparently drawing on his emergency medical training to hit all her vital organs.
According to a copyright article in the Idaho Statesman newspaper in Boise, the victim’s father blamed himself for her death after finding scores of frightening letters from Waddell to his daughter in her room. The father, a physician, committed suicide. Then the mother did the same, leaving two other children orphaned.
Waddell pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. He was 18 at the time.
State prison records show he was sent to the Idaho State Correctional Institution at Orofino for three years. While there, he received a formal reprimand for sending unauthorized mail to a female inmate who had been let out on probation.
One month later, he requested permission to correspond with another female inmate who had been released on parole. That permission was denied.
He was moved to the Shoshone County Jail in 1992, where jail officials classified him as a trusty and assigned him to do maintenance work at the county courthouse.
“He was very pleasant,” said Shoshone County Sheriff Dan Schierman. “Everything that was asked of him, he did without complaining about it.”
Waddell won over county officials with his polite manner. He completed a four-year correspondence course to become a plumber, and started a program to repair old bicycles for needy children at Christmas.
All three county commissioners, the sheriff, various deputies and jail officials, chaplains and courthouse employees wrote letters to the state praising Waddell and asking that his sentence be commuted. The letters said Waddell came into contact with the public daily through his work assignments, and posed no threat to anyone.
“I thought he was quite pleasant myself,” said Gary Waters, Shoshone County commissioner. “He had very good manners.”
Waters said he wasn’t concerned about Waddell walking around the community with only a maintenance worker to guard him.
“I’m very concerned about dope peddlers getting their hands slapped and screwing up thousands of lives,” he said. “You have one kid that seems like an all right person that is condemned to life for one fit of rage. I think the dope pushers are much worse.”
In repeated petitions, with a stack of supporting letters nearly an inch high, Waddell asked the state to commute the rest of his fixed prison time and let him out on parole immediately. He isn’t eligible for parole otherwise until 2008.
“We didn’t do it, we won’t do it, and that needs to be perfectly clear,” Spalding told state lawmakers this week.
The board has refused to grant Waddell a parole hearing.
The state will continue to house inmates at county jails while they await transfers to the crowded state prison system. But it will review its priorities on which inmates are moved to prison cells first, with an eye to getting violent offenders to state prisons more quickly.
Kootenai County’s trusties will be removed from the jail within the next two weeks, Grubbs said.
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