Prison Killer Who Severed Penis of Victim Sentenced to Death

An Arizona prison inmate who sliced off the penis of a seriously mentally ill inmate before killing him has been sentenced to death.

Jasper Rushing, 45, already was serving a 28-year prison sentence for the 2001 murder of his stepfather when he mutilated and beat to death his cellmate, 40-year-old Shannon Palmer, in 2010.

He was found guilty by a Maricopa County jury on June 1 after a 10-day trial. On Tuesday, a jury deliberated for four-and-a-half hours following the aggravation and penalty phases of the trial before sentencing him to die, according to County Attorney Bill Montgomery's office.

As covered in a September 1, 2011 feature article in New Times, Palmer, a convicted burglar, had a long history of mental illness when he re-offended in 2008, shooting a gun in his backyard to ward off imaginary attackers. Serving a three-year sentence for criminal damage, he was placed in a cell in August 2010 with Rushing, whom he proceeded to accidentally aggravate because of his illness. As Rushing himself told former New Times scribe Paul Rubin in the comprehensive article, which tied the murder to the Grand Canyon-size holes in Arizona's mental healthcare system as well as poor prison policy:

“It makes no sense at all to put a murderer in a cell living assholes-to-elbows with a guy who is crazy and probably shouldn’t be in prison at all. Bad things can happen in a house like that.

“I can deal with just about anything within reason in prison. All I basically need is light, running water, and a book, and I’m okay. I guess this wasn’t within reason.

“Day after day and night after night of his paranoid bullshit, and his disrespect for women and children. It was almost pitchblack in there because they couldn’t fix the lights. I couldn’t read or think straight. This is what can happen.” What did happen is that Jasper Rushing decided Shannon Palmer needed to die. It was much the same as in 2001, when Rushing, at age 20, murdered his stepfather because he became convinced the man had raped a young family member (no evidence of an assault ever emerged). Rushing shot the sleeping man to death inside a Yavapai County trailer."

Evidence from the trial proved that Palmer was still alive when Rushing cut off his victim's penis before beating him to death with a paperback wrapped in a sheet.

“The death penalty is a just punishment for those particular murders that qualify for the most severe penalty permitted under Arizona law,” Montgomery said in a written statement about the jury verdict. “This defendant’s case is just such an instance and also proves that incapacitating a violent offender does not guarantee they will not offend again, including taking the life of another.”

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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.