109 Degrees of Incarceration

County inmate Lance Hawthorne died in a cell whose vent had been closed as a form of punishment

Helen's narrative and court records reflect that Lance was victimized by an abusive, alcoholic father whom Helen divorced in 1958. In 1953, at 9, Lance fell and suffered a concussion. A school psychologist later theorized that Lance's academic problems were related to the head injury and his "dysfunctional family situation."

After the divorce, the Hawthornes fought over custody of Lance. Despite his alcoholism and history of abusing his son, Ross Hawthorne was awarded custody. Helen says a court psychologist found her "too lenient."

But upon turning 18, Lance was kicked out of his father's house. For the rest of his life, Helen says, Lance would live on and off with his mother. When he wasn't living with his mother in Phoenix, he preferred California, and even managed to land a job in the movie industry doing technical work. But for the most part, Lance Hawthorne bounced from one menial job to another and lived on a meager income.

According to court records, in 1989 he had been living rent-free for several months in a garage owned by John Hauke when Hauke rented the property's main house to new tenants. Hauke told Dennis Stone, one of the new tenants, that he wanted Hawthorne out, and that he'd appreciate any help Stone might give in evicting him.

So Stone knocked on Hawthorne's door on March 12, demanded that Hawthorne move out, and then ducked as bullets started flying.

Hawthorne told police that Hauke and Stone were telling lies. He was actually current with his rent, he claimed. And he'd recently returned from a trip to find that his room had been burglarized. That's why he'd reacted with a hair trigger when, in his version, Stone had tried to break in with a piece of rebar. Police did find a piece of rebar stuck in Hawthorne's door.

Hawthorne wasn't prosecuted for firing his weapon. Instead, it was the photographic negatives of nude children found in Hawthorne's room that got him in trouble. After that, Hawthorne's failures to abide by the court's rules of probation dug him in deeper and deeper.

But Helen Hawthorne either is unaware of her son's misdeeds or chooses not to dwell on them. She says repeatedly that she would have been glad to take him in again if the court had only allowed her. Her son was just mixed up, she says.

"He was a very intelligent boy. He had good grammar."
Lance Hawthorne was jailed for the last time on June 20, 1997, and he complained that the threat of being beaten by other inmates wasn't the only problem he faced.

An obese man with serious health problems--he had been declared unable to work years earlier because of his heart ailment--Hawthorne found the heat of Towers Jail unbearable.

"It is very uncomfortable for me in here," he wrote to his mother. "I feel like hell. It is very hot in here. I am covered in heat rash--just awful."

Meanwhile, other inmates targeted Hawthorne as a "child molester" (Hawthorne, however, had no criminal record of physically touching a child), and on August 5, Hawthorne filled out an inmate request form with a terse note: "I have been told I will be subject to attack if I do not leave. I was hit once already. I fear for my safety." His request was denied.

On August 18, Hawthorne showed guards that he had a black eye and said that he'd been attacked. The next day, he was moved to Madison Street Jail.

His cellmate there, Leavere Garvin Smith, told investigators that he got along fine with Hawthorne in the two days that they shared their cell. Shortly after Hawthorne arrived, the heavy man left his cell to take a shower. Garvin took advantage of the open cell door to put out a bag of dirty laundry for cleaning. When a guard asked him about it, however, Garvin admitted to investigators that he gave an evasive answer.

As punishment, the guard shut a trap door that was the only source of fresh air in the small cell. For the next two days, the trap door stayed closed as the temperature in the cell climbed.

"If the trap is shut, there is virtually no fresh air that is being circulated," sheriff's detective A.M. Luna wrote in his investigative report. Smith told Luna that he believed Hawthorne was suffering from some sort of chest congestion, and on the 21st, he seemed to be worsening. "Smith told me he believed that the heat was getting to Hawthorne."

That night, Smith said that Hawthorne was coughing "real hard . . . was having a hard time breathing, and some sort of foam was coming from his mouth. Smith also noticed that Hawthorne had pus around his eyes and his face was extremely red."

Smith and neighboring inmates began clamoring for help.
Guards found Hawthorne unresponsive at 11:45 p.m. on August 21. Hawthorne was taken to Phoenix Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:55 a.m.

Dr. Philip Keen, the county's medical examiner, determined Hawthorne was killed by atherosclerotic coronary artery disease combined with acute hyperthermia. Keen, in his autopsy report, says Hawthorne's high body temperature was "unexplained."

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