Four Inmate Homicide Deaths (at Least) in State Prisons in 2008; High Number Comes After Employees Disciplined in '06 Murder

Four men, possibly more, were killed by other inmates in Arizona state prisons last year, an unusually high number just one year after an inmate death spurred the firing of a warden and discipline for 13 guards.

What's going on behind those walls?

As reported in this blog back in October, 51-year-old Duffy Kilrain was assaulted by "several inmates" and later died of his wounds.

The killing occured at the same Florence prison that in 2006 saw a high-profile murder of William Harris, a non-violent prisoner. Warden John Ontiveros lost his job and more than a dozen other guards who were "fired, forced to resign, suspended or reprimanded" because of mistakes and "operator error" that led to Harris' death.

A few weeks after Kilrain was slain, convicted murderer Earl Ray Lappe was offed by at least one suspect at the Lewis prison in Buckeye. New Times subseqently put in a public records request to see case files on all state prison deaths in 2008, and we got to see them this week.

Only two of 98 deaths in 2008 were categorized as homicides -- but neither of the two were Lappe or Kilrain.

Instead, they were:

*Sean Kelly, 42, (pictured above), who died on June 29. A search on the ADC's Web site shows Kelly was being housed at the Lewis prison. He was a drug violator scheduled to be released this year or next.

*Timothy Lucero, 39, (at right), who died on September 4. The ADC's Web site shows he was a pot violator and car thief scheduled to be released by 2011 at the latest. A blog entry in the Tucson Citizen says he was assaulted in the Cimarron Unit of the state prison in Tucson and died en route to a hospital.

Lappe and Kilrain (pictured below) fell into the "pending" category, meaning the prison system hasn't decided on an official cause of death. Twelve other deaths were pending -- it's possible another homicide or two could be lurking on that list.

Bill Lamoreaux, spokesman for the state prisons, pulled homicide numbers for recent years at the request of New Times.

The prison system had two killings in 2005, two in 2006 and one in 2007 -- meaning last year was, indeed, particularly bad. But it could always get worse, if ADC doesn't fix its security problems.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.