The remains of 48-year-old Marcia Powell, who died May 20 after being confined to a human cage at Perryville Prison for at least four hours in the punishing Arizona sun, are being held by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office on the request of the county Fiduciary Office, MCME spokeswoman Gayle Milette told me today.
"We are not releasing the body at this time," Milette explained, when asked if Powell's corpse would be given to a group of prison reform advocates and activists who'll be holding a memorial service for Powell on Saturday. "The public fiduciary believes there's next of kin, and we've agreed to hold the body until they find out one way or another."
According to its Web site, the fiduciary's office serves "as court appointed guardian, conservator and personal representative when there is no other person or corporation qualified and willing to serve." A call to the fiduciary's office was not immediately returned.
Donna Hamm, criminal justice advocate with Middle Ground Prison Reform, is one of the individuals organizing a service for Powell, who was serving a 27-month stint for prostitution when she expired. Hamm told me that she was informed by a representative of the fiduciary's office today that Powell had a guardianship through their office.
The possibility of a guardianship and a search for next of kin by the fiduciary raises troubling questions about Interim Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan's decision to pull the plug on Powell so soon after her admission to West Valley Hospital. The ADC's May 20 press release states that, "Powell was taken to West Valley Hospital at 3:12 p.m. She was pronounced dead at 12:42 a.m. Wednesday."
A recent article in the Arizona Republic noted that Powell "was taken off life support at 11:15 p.m.," and died at 12:42 a.m. If correct, that would have given the ADC only eight hours to research Powell's relatives, if any.
Did Ryan know of a possible guardianship? And what was the rush to remove Powell from life support?
"At this point, it's just too hard to know if it makes a difference," Hamm told me regarding Ryan's decision to take Powell off life support. "Clearly if next of kin can be located, then that person is the one who should have made the decision. No matter if it took a week to find them. There should have been some coordination between the fiduciary and the Department of Corrections."
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Hamm said Ryan has assured her that the cost of keeping Powell alive was not a factor in his decision. Still, for Hamm, the fiduciary's search for a next of kin, and the possibility that Ryan was hasty in pulling Powell's plug, offers yet another reason why there should be an investigation independent of the ADC. Hamm has written a letter to Governor Jan Brewer asking that she order an independent inquiry. So far she has received no reply from the Governor's office.
You can read Hamm's letter to the Governor, here.
A call to ADC's media affairs for comment was not immediately returned, but ADC is already playing damage control. As Hamm notes in her letter to Brewer, Powell's mug shot has apparently been switched out for less shocking one, one of Powell smiling. As Hamm wonders in her letter,"Why would the DOC alter the `mug shot' of a prisoner who had already died?"
It's one of many questions I'd like a response to, but the ADC is dodging my requests for answers, and does not return my calls for comment.