Latest from The Spokesman-Review
I love Italy. That year we spent together was filled with magical experiences and a few growing pains. So when I hear news from Italy, it feels like news from home…Oh, the secrets she kept while I explored her cities, trains, art, and people. Secrets about a judicial system that is, well, whacked.
Last week two decisions came out of that country that – when compared/contrasted – make no sense. And even when they stand alone – whacked.
An Italian judge convicted seven scientists of manslaughter sentencing them to “six years in prison for failing to give warning before the April 2009 earthquake that killed 309 people, injured an additional 1,500 or so and left more than 65,000 people homeless in and around the city of L’Aquila in central Italy.” Huh?
And… and Friday’s decision by an Italian court convicted former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of tax evasion, sentencing him to four years in prison.
I really hope Amanda Knox left a few good books and a whole lot of patience behind.
(S-R archives photo:Firefighters carry a woman out of a crumbled home in the city of L’Aquila, after a strong earthquake rocked central Italy, 2009)
A retired Air Force officer in Spokane says a series of blunders involving international airlines and a global security contractor in Iraq led to his incarceration in a vermin-infested Middle Eastern prison.
A complaint recently filed in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington alleges James H. Hunter followed proper procedures for transporting personal firearms on a trip to Iraq in 2008 but was jailed after an airline sent him to another country and his employer denied knowing him.
“He suffered 60 days of frightening existence in one of the world’s most notorious prisons,” said Hunter’s lawyer, Thatcher Stone, of New York. “He picked up all sorts of illnesses when he was there, some of which have cleared up and some of which he still has.” Stone is handling the case with Coeur d’Alene lawyer Nicolas Vieth.
A Spokane man released from prison in March is accused of kidnapping his girlfriend and threatening to kill her.
Duane L. Comeslast, 32, is charged with felony kidnapping, harassment and car theft after his girlfriend told police he forced her into her Jeep Cherokee at 2130 E. North Crescent Ave. and drove toward Upriver Drive, where he told her “he was going to kill her and throw her body in the river where no one would find it,” according to court documents.
The woman told police she acted complaint and asked Comeslast to talk her to East Longfellow Avenue and North Florida Street to use the bathroom, knowing she had friends near the park.
She got out of the Jeep and Comeslast recognized her uncle's car and tried to drag her back to the Jeep, but she was able to break free, according to court documents.
Police arrived at her uncle's home at 4111 E. Longfellow and discovered the alleged victim with bruises and swollen lip. Comeslast was arrested and held in Benton County on a parole violation until he was transferred to the Spokane County Jail to face charges.
He appeared in Superiro Court Tuesday and remains in jail on $75,000 bond. Comeslast has previous convictions for domestic violence assault.
Comeslast and his family were featured in this 1995 article about his younger brother's arrest on murder charges.
Three days after a man who shot seven people at the Tacoma Mall took a prison guard hostage and a convicted Spokane killer was shot to death on a fork lift, state prisons chief Eldon Vail has resigned.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who reportedly learned about Vail's decision just today, quickly named a temporary replacement. Jim Camden has more at Spin Control.
Look for a story in The Spokesman-Review next week examining the Department of Corrections' reaction to the eye-gauging assault at Airway Heights Corrections Center last fall by a man already convicted of murdering a cellmate.
MONROE, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state reformatory inmate has acknowledged killing Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl in the prison chapel, saying he was angry with the way she spoke to him minutes earlier, according to a search warrant made public Friday.
The search warrant said inmate Byron Scherf, 52, a Spokane-area sex offender, acknowledged the crime to detectives Wednesday in a videotaped interview, The Herald newspaper of Everett reported.
“I'll just get right to the point. I'm responsible for the death of the correctional officer at the Monroe, uh, correctional facility,” he said, according to excerpts cited in the court papers. “I strangled her to death on Jan. 29 at approximately 8:40 p.m. in the chapel.”
The interview came after Scherf asked detectives for a chance to tell them what happened, according to the warrant, which said he acknowledged his right to remain silent, then confessed.
Scherf's public defender, Bill Jaquette, did not immediately return a call Friday seeking comment.
Scherf reportedly told detectives he was angry at Biendl over how she had spoken with him at about 8:15 to 8:25 while he worked in the prison chapel that evening.
As he thought about it more, “I got to the point where I knew I was going to kill her,” he reportedly said.
According to the search warrant, Biendl sent the inmates back to their cells at about 8:30 and began closing the chapel. Scherf said he decided to hang back and attacked Biendl from behind, it said.
He detailed a struggle that lasted about four minutes, with Biendl trying, and apparently failing, to radio for help, in part because he disabled her communications equipment, according to the document.
Scherf said Biendl bit and scratched him and stomped on his foot trying to get free. They wound up on the ground and he used a cable from an amplifier to fatally choke her, he reportedly told detectives.
He was described as becoming emotional as he said, “I'm certainly sorry.”
Scherf since 1997 has been serving life in prison without possibility of release after being convicted of three attacks on women.
The search warrant was obtained to look for trace evidence that would be expected to have been left behind inside the chapel if the fight happened as Scherf described.
The warrant is one of several made public in the last few days. One released Thursday said Scherf had asked others who attended the chapel to pray for him two days before the killing because he was struggling with temptation.
A slideshow from Biendl's funeral is above.
MONROE, Wash. (AP) — A search warrant issued in connection with the death of a Monroe correctional officer says the suspect had asked people to pray for him because he was struggling with temptation, the Daily Herald reported Friday.
Inmate Byron Scherf, a Spokane-area sex offender, submitted a prayer request Jan. 27, asking others who attended the chapel at the Washington State Reformatory to “pray for me for very pressing temptations I have been dealing with — I want to do the right thing but am really struggling.” The chapel's lone officer, Jayme Biendl, was strangled Jan. 29.
Scherf, 52, is a three-strikes offender serving a life sentence for rape convictions. He volunteered at the chapel where he worked as a janitor and clerk. He's jailed in Everett for the homicide investigation.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said he can't discuss Scherf or the case against him until detectives complete their investigation.
Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis also said she could not discuss the case or comment on what Scherf may have told investigators.
Detectives this week identified roughly 60 more people they want to interview as part of the criminal investigation, Willis said. Many are inmates.
The search warrant made public on Thursday is one of several that have been sought in the case in recent days. Combined, the warrants shed new light on what detectives believe happened:
Surveillance camera footage from the prison shows Biendl propping open the door to the sanctuary for Scherf at 8:08 p.m. so he could get baptismal blankets. He then returned to a chapel office where he spent most of the evening. A fellow inmate brought Scherf his jacket around 8:30 p.m., closing time. The jacket had been left in the sanctuary.
An inmate told investigators that he and Scherf left the chapel at the same time the night of the killing, but Scherf said he needed to go back, claiming that he'd left behind his hat.
Click the link below to read the rest of the Associated Press story .
Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) – Prisoners in the state of South Carolina caught with banned cell phones, which are often tossed over a prison fence to them, can face solitary confinement and loss of visitation and canteen privileges.
But those caught updating their status on their Facebook page, by cell phone or any other means, might soon be looking at 30 extra days behind bars and a $500 fine.
Representative Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat from Charleston, has introduced a bill that would make it unlawful for an inmate to be a member of any internet social-networking site, and would provide a penalty on conviction for the offense.
Oh gosh! Hope none of my FB friends are posting status updates from the pen!
Do accept FB friendship request from people you don't know?
EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — The family of slain Monroe prison guard Jayme Biendl released a statement through police Thursday saying they are devastated by the loss.
They thank law enforcement and the community for their support but don't want to talk to media.
The family says it is focusing on memories and preparing for the memorial service at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Comcast Center in Everett.
Biendl was strangled Saturday night in the chapel at the prison.
An inmate suspected of the killing, Byron Scherf, is jailed in Everett for the investigation.
The suspect in the murder of a prison guard had served as a chapel volunteer after a decade of good behavior.
Byron Scherf, a serial rapist with ties to Spokane , told officers he was trying to escape but had changed his mind when he was found in the chapel lobby after it was noticed he was missing.
Guard Jayme Biendl's body was found an hour later, fully clothed and with no evidence of sexual assault. The 34-year-old woman had a two-way radio with an alarm, but prison officials don't know whether she tried to call for help.
Two days after Biendl's death, Gov. Chris Gregoire called for an outside investigation focused on whether there is adequate staff at the medium-security reformatory unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex, about 30 miles northeast of Seattle.
“There's a lot of grief and sorrow, and I think there are probably pockets of anger as well,” said Dan Pacholke, the Department of Corrections' deputy director of prisons.
Union officials questioned why Biendl, a nine-year veteran of the department, was alone after complaining to prison supervisors about being the only guard working in the chapel without anyone checking on her.
Recent budget cuts have forced staffing reductions and union members have been worried about the impact on safety, said Teamsters 117 spokeswoman Tracey Thompson.
Prison officials said staffing levels among guards who deal directly with inmates weren't down; just one person worked in the chapel for the past 15 years.
Guards always have been outnumbered by inmates, and prisons are full of people who have committed crimes as bad or worse as Scherf's, Pacholke said.
Budget cuts have forced hiring freezes among administrative and support personnel, officials said, but there's been no reduction in the number of “front-line” officers.
Scherf had not had a serious infraction since 2001, had a prison job, wasn't in a gang and had earned privileges for good conduct, Pacholke said.
Everything seemed to indicate he was “serving his incarceration in an acceptable fashion,” he said.
However, he said that did little to comfort prison staff trying to cope with their “tremendous sorrow” at the loss of a personable young woman who in 2008 had been named Monroe's corrections officer of the year.
Gregoire said Monday that in addition to the standard department review, she has asked for an outside review by federal officials at the National Institute of Corrections.
The 800-inmate unit was locked down and could stay that way the rest of the week as the criminal investigation continues, Pacholke said.
The inmate suspected of killing a corrections officer in Western Washington is a sex offender serving life in prison for the abduction and rape of a Spokane-area real estate agent in 1995.
Byron Scherf, 52, who has a long history of violent sexual assault, is in an isolation facility after Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl, 34, was found dead Saturday night by fellow officers in the chapel lobby of the Monroe Correctional Complex, according to the Department of Corrections.
Biendl reportedly had complained to supervisors about working alone in the chapel.
“She was feeling unsafe,” about supervising numerous inmates, Tracey Thompson, secretary treasurer for the Teamsters Local 117 that represents corrections officers, told the Seattle Times. “My understanding is there were repeated complaints.”
Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for an independent investigation into Biendl's death. Read more here.
surveillance video from the overhead cameras shows Hanni Elabed being
beaten by a fellow inmate in an Idaho prison, managing to bang on a
prison guard station window, pleading for help. Behind the glass,
correctional officers look on, but no one intervenes when Elabed was
knocked unconscious. No one steps into the cellblock when the attacker sits down to rest, and no one stops him when he resumes the beating. Videos of the attack obtained by The Associated Press show officers
watching the beating for several minutes. The footage is a key piece of
evidence for critics who claim the privately run Idaho Correctional
Center uses inmate-on-inmate violence to force prisoners to snitch on
their cellmates or risk being moved to extremely violent units/Rebecca Boone, AP. More here. (AP photo: An inmate attacks fellow inmate Hanni Elabed at the privately-run Idaho Correctional Center.) H/T: Bent. Question: Should Idaho farm out oversight of prisons to private companies? And/or: Do you care if inmates beat on one another?
The surveillance video from the overhead cameras shows Hanni Elabed being beaten by a fellow inmate in an Idaho prison, managing to bang on a prison guard station window, pleading for help. Behind the glass, correctional officers look on, but no one intervenes when Elabed was knocked unconscious. No one steps into the cellblock when the attacker sits down to rest, and no one stops him when he resumes the beating. Videos of the attack obtained by The Associated Press show officers watching the beating for several minutes. The footage is a key piece of evidence for critics who claim the privately run Idaho Correctional Center uses inmate-on-inmate violence to force prisoners to snitch on their cellmates or risk being moved to extremely violent units/Rebecca Boone, AP. More here. (AP photo: An inmate attacks fellow inmate Hanni Elabed at the privately-run Idaho Correctional Center.) H/T: Bent.
Question: Should Idaho farm out oversight of prisons to private companies? And/or: Do you care if inmates beat on one another?
BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) — Two Bellingham men have been charged with conspiracy to mail papers soaked in methamphetamine to inmates in state prisons.
A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle alleges that 31-year-old Joseph L. Garcia supplied ounces of meth to 47-year-old Kirk L. Rishor, who soaked the drugs into high-quality, cotton-fiber paper.
The complaint says Rishor put the paper into manila envelopes flled with legal paperwork and mailed the package to the prison.
Rishor and Garcia were arrested in Bellingham on Nov. 12. When investigators searched Garcia’s home with a warrant, they found $28,000 in cash and almost 40 ounces of meth.
An inmate in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Victor Martinez, also has been charged.
Good evening, Netizens…
O how the once powerful and mighty have fallen.
This AP jail house picture of Phil Spector, sans his various wigs, pretty much says it all for me. This comes after several statements given to the news media by his wife that his wigs were actually his own hair, which one observes from this picture, is apparently not so.
Spector, known for his many elaborate hairstyles over the years, had to abandon his wigs after being sentenced last month to 19 years to life for killing actress Lana Clarkson. The prison system in California does not allow wigs excepting for “medical emergencies”.
In his heyday in the early and mid-1960s, Spector produced dozens of hits, including The Ronette’s “Be My Baby,” The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” and The Righteous Brothers’ classic, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin.’” Spector also worked on the Beatles album “Let It Be” and John Lennon’s album, “Imagine.”
My, how life has changed for Phil Spector.
I had this story in the print paper today:
OLYMPIA _ Citing a smaller population of female prisoners, state corrections officials plan to shutter one of two units at Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women, the only women’s prison east of the Cascades.
The 359-woman prison in Medical Lake will shrink to 187 inmates. The rest will be transferred to West Side facilities.
About 30 of Pine Lodge’s roughly 100 staffers will lose their current jobs, the Department of Corrections said, but officials will try to find new jobs for them in the state prison system.
Prison officials said earlier this year they would close the entire prison and transfer all its inmates to a site near Vancouver, Wash. Closing Pine Lodge would save $14 million over two years, they said at the time. But that plan was shelved in favor of a statewide study – due late this year – to determine which prison to close.
Corrections spokeswoman Maria Peterson said Tuesday the unit closure at Pine Lodge is not a preface to closure of the entire facility.
“The plan right now is to run it at about 200 female offenders,” Peterson said.
The battle is joined: Walla Walla inmate files records request re: proposal to ban excessive inmate record requests…
Alan Parmelee, an inmate at the state penitentiary at Walla Walla, has filed a large records request for “any and all records in any format, from any agency and/or person, relating to the prospective and subsequent passing, directly or indirectly, of HB 1181 and SB 5130.”
The bills he cites are bills aimed at limiting excessive records requests by prison inmates.
“I think it’s fitting that the very person who prompted the law in the first place will be the legal test case to try it out,” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said in a press release this morning. Carrell sponsored the Senate version, which would allo courts to limit requests if they seem aimed at harassing or intimidating state officials.
Attorney General Rob McKenna has urged lawmakers to pass such a law, saying that some inmates have made a “cottage industry” out of filing massive records requests, then seeking cash penalties when the records are late or a record is wrongly denied.
For more on Parmelee, see this Seattle Weekly profile from last summer.
Officials at the state Department of Corrections are backing away, at least for now, from a plan to close the only women’s prison east of the Cascades: Pine Lodge.
S-R writer Lisa Leinberger has the story. From it:
The Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women may not close next year as previously announced by the Department of Corrections.
Superintendent Walker Morton of the facility reassured the Medical Lake City Council as well as many of the facility’s employees who attended the council meeting intending to rally support to keep the center open.
“It has been reported that this is part of the governor’s budget plan to reduce spending due to the revenue shortfall,” Eldon Vail, secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections, said in an e-mail to Morton. “Based on the questions raised by Pine Lodge Superintendent Morton Walker (sic) and his staff, we have decided and are announcing that our previous decision to close Pine Lodge was premature.”
The e-mail went on to explain that the state will undertake a cost/benefit study before any final decision is made and the number of inmates the DOC may be required to house may change as well.
From tomorrow’s paper:
Citing the state’s budget woes, prison officials want to close Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women, Washington’s only women’s prison east of the Cascade Mountains.
As early as next summer, the state would start transferring roughly 350 inmates to a prison near Vancouver. About 140 workers would have to shift to jobs elsewhere or be laid off.
“It was pretty clear that based on the fiscal constraints we’re going to be facing, that we need to close a facility,” said Dick Morgan, director of the state Department of Corrections’ prisons division.
Pine Lodge, located in Medical Lake, includes some aging buildings that need costly renovations, he said, “so it became the most likely candidate.”
The state would save about $14 million over the next two years, he said.
Although state lawmakers will have the final say, Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed billions of dollars in reduced spending over the next two years, forcing state agencies to find ways to wring that money from their budgets.
Pine Lodge superintendent Walker Morton said he’s urging staff at the minimum custody prison to try not to worry, that it’s just a proposal. If the prison closes, he said, he’s been told it wouldn’t take place until February of 2010.
“We just have to keep our eyes and ears open until the legislators do their thing,” he said.
Morton met with the prison’s inmates Tuesday and told them the news. Most were understanding, he said.
Closing Pine Lodge is only one facet of Gregoire’s proposed $125 million in savings at the Department of Corrections. And the agency isn’t alone; the Department of Social and Health Services is trying to figure out how to cut spending by nearly $1.3 billion; the Department of Health by $75 million.
Morgan said prison officials would be happy to consider money-saving alternatives to closing Pine Lodge. But the state is facing 1,000 fewer inmates than expected, Morgan said, and in the face of a massive budget shortfall, its hard to justify keeping all the prisons open.
News of the proposal, which initially trickled out in phone calls and emails, stunned workers.
“Some people can’t believe this,”said Dawnel Southwick, a secretary supervisor at the prison for the past 9 years. “This facility is not the run-down, broken-down, not-going-to-survive-until-next-week facility that they’re making it out to be.”
“These are good, family-wage jobs,” said Matthew Pederson, executive director of the West Plains chamber of commerce.
The state has two prisons with female inmates in Western Washington. The Washington State Corrections Center for Women is near Gig Harbor, and Mission Creek is near Shelton.
“I’ve never heard of them closing a prison,” said Marye Jorgenson, who works in Pine Lodge’s records department. “You keep up hope that if people fight hard and long enough, we can hang on, hopefully through this recession.”
The Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents most of the workers, said that the state should instead be looking at ways to bring more money into the state treasury.
“I don’t think we can cut our way out of this huge deficit,” said union spokesman Tim Welch. One obvious place to look, he said, are the “huge tax loopholes” for businesses.
For inmates from Eastern Washington, the transfer to Larch Corrections Center would mean being hundreds of miles away from loved ones.
“It’s going to devastate families, and most women in prison have children,” said Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, a sentencing-reform group based in Colville. “If you move them to where you can’t see them in a day and get home, most people won’t be able to afford to visit.”
Morgan concedes that the move could be tough on Eastern Washington families. But he said most inmates – like most Washingtonians – are from the western side of the state.