Jasper Rushing is reflecting about why he pummeled, slashed, and mutilated his seriously mentally ill cellmate to death last September 10.
"It was not a healthy environment in there," he tells New Times from his current residence at the Maricopa County Jail.
Rushing is talking about what happened inside Cell A-26 in Building A of the Buckley Unit at the Arizona State Prison-Lewis Complex in Buckeye. It is a so-called isolation cell within the larger protective segregation unit.
Paul Rubins cover story
Shadow Dwellers: A SeriesWhat's the one image you took away from the Tucson shootings? We thought so. That mugshot of Jared Loughner is haunting. And for the world, it has become the face of mental illness in Arizona. Here, we know that's not true. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the story of what it's like to be mentally ill in this place cannot be told in a single photograph.
Tens of thousands of seriously mentally ill people live in Arizona. Some of them look just like you.
Other stories in the series:
Jan Brewer's Response to Jared Loughner: Slash More Than 35 Million in Services from an Already Beleaguered Mental Health System, by Paul Rubin and Amy Silverman
He speaks with unsparing clarity about Shannon Palmer's murder at his hands inside a cell designed for one person, not two.
"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 pitch-black 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.
He was sentenced to a minimum of 28 years in prison after his first murder conviction.
When Rushing was assigned to A-26 on August 19, 2010, his new cellmate, Palmer, was nearing the end of a three-year sentence for criminal damage.
Palmer's "victim" was a Salt River Project power pole in Mesa, which he scaled during an August 2008 thunderstorm, forcing the utility to shut off power in the area until authorities finally talked him down.
Police reports said Palmer had a photograph of his daughter (he'd lost parental rights a few years earlier) with him.
The 40-year-old long had been haunted by unbearable mental problems. Diagnosed years earlier with paranoid schizophrenia, he was fixated on government officials he was sure had implanted a device into his thigh allowing evildoers to control his thoughts and actions.
Palmer's fragile mental state was such that he had spent time earlier in 2010 in a Phoenix prison ward reserved for only the most seriously mentally ill inmates.
But by his older sister Dawn's account, he was not on any anti-psychotic drugs when he died, which was very unfortunate.
It wasn't that Palmer, with no known history of committing violent acts, was a danger to anyone but himself. But he couldn't help expressing his thoughts, which could be delusional, jumbled, and inappropriate.
What happened in Cell A-26 just before 1 p.m. last September 10 is not in great dispute:
First, Jasper Rushing bashed his cellmate several times in the head with a makeshift "club" made of books wrapped tightly in a small sheet. (Rushing chose not to include the tome Rights of Prisoners, which was visible in crime-scene photos.)
Then he grabbed a small shank he had fashioned with the blade of a disposable razor that prison officials remarkably had allowed him to have in the cell.
Within seconds, he had gouged open the unconscious Palmer's throat on two sides, the gaping wounds as wide and long as a middle finger.
Blood spewed and spattered against the cell's gray walls, quickly gathering in a puddle on the concrete floor.
Finally, Rushing pulled down Shannon Palmer's orange prison-issue pants and hacked off the dying man's penis.
Then he quietly waited for someone in authority to come by, which took two or three minutes.
Palmer died within a half-hour, despite the fierce efforts of corrections officers to save him.
"He was very calm," one of the officers later said of Jasper Rushing's demeanor at the scene. "It was like the sky is blue, the grass is green, there's a nice breeze blowing."
This is one homicide that definitely doesn't qualify as a whodunit.
Jasper Rushing committed first-degree murder and did so in a heinous fashion. He faces the death penalty when his case goes to trial, perhaps sometime next year.
No doubt, Rushing will die in prison — whether or not the state of Arizona kills him by lethal injection.
What is more pressing than Rushing's fate are questions that surfaced after Shannon Palmer's frightful — and preventable — murder.
First, why and how did Arizona Department of Corrections officials stick a psychotic short-timer in a tiny cell with a smoldering killer who had no hope of getting released for decades?
Joel Hughes wondered the same thing during a recent interview with Rushing's attorney and a county prosecutor. Hughes was locked in the isolation cell next door when Rushing attacked Palmer, and he knew both men.
"I wouldn't move in with Jasper for all the money in the world," said Hughes, freed from prison just last month after serving 20 years on an attempted murder rap. "He was doing too much time for me to live with him. That's their life — and you're getting out. Your conversations don't match."
Hughes claims to have seen Shannon Palmer hand a note — a "kite," in prison parlance — to a corrections officer a day or two before the murder.
He says he heard Palmer ask the officer to get the message to a duty sergeant as "a matter of life or death" and say that he desperately needed to get out of that cell.
Rushing also says he was a few feet away when Palmer delivered that kite, and he says he saw the sergeant and the original officer just chuckle later that day when Palmer asked about the status of his request.
The deputy county attorney prosecuting Rushing recently told a judge that prison officials have not located Palmer's urgent kite.
Shannon Palmer fits the chilling description by psychiatrist Dr. E. Fuller Torrey in his book The Insanity Offense, in which he writes of seriously mentally ill inmates who "become human beings rotting away inside dark and isolated concrete cells with no hope of ever receiving proper care and attention . . ."
Torrey is the founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, based in Arlington, Virginia. A May 2010 survey by the nonprofit center, in concert with the National Sheriffs' Association, revealed that the seriously mentally ill are incarcerated nationally at more than three times the frequency they get treated in hospitals or outpatient clinics.
In Arizona and Nevada, according to that study, that same ratio of incarceration to treatment facilities is more than 10 times — by far the nation's highest.
That is no anomaly, says Carl ToersBijns, a retired deputy warden at Arizona's supermax prison in Florence and frequent critic of the state's corrections system.
"Arizona citizens and society, in general, has shown no signs for outpouring sympathy or compassion for those [seriously mentally ill] offenders or their families," ToersBijns wrote in a recent essay, Serpents At Your Front Door, which he published on Yahoo!'s Associated Content site.
"This is reflective of the fact that when the state hospital was de-funded and reduced capacity through budget cuts occurred, more inmates were sent to prison than ever before," according to ToersBijns.
Even Shannon Palmer's murderer has considered the plight of Arizona's seriously mentally ill who happen to commit crimes.
"It's unfortunate there were no real mental-health services available for Palmer outside," Jasper Rushing tells New Times. "Once you get in trouble out there, you pretty much are going to prison, no matter what your problem is. And there was nothing in [prison] to help him."
That fits with another of Dr. Torrey's pertinent observations: "Jails and prisons were not created to be psychiatric hospitals, and staff were not selected to be psychiatric nurses. Some of the problems precipitated by the rise in seriously mentally ill inmates include the following: suicides, abuse and beatings, rape, and murder."
Arizona politicians, led by Governor Jan Brewer, continue to trumpet the ongoing budget cutbacks in the mental-health arena as necessary "savings" to beleaguered taxpayers.
But studies from across the political spectrum suggest that continued criminalization of the seriously mentally ill in lieu of a workable community mental-health treatment system is more expensive, short and long-term.
Leaders of some states, including law-and-order Texas and its Republican governor (and presidential hopeful), Rick Perry, have come to realize that they may effectively shrink the prison population and save money without sacrificing public safety, while decreasing the rate of recidivism.
In 2007, Texas officials reinvested $241 million into a network of residential and community-based treatment and diversion programs, rather than more than $2 billion to build new prisons. Few in that hang-'em-high state seem to be complaining.
But scores of seriously mentally ill Arizonans continue to be imprisoned each year, mostly because there is no place else to put them.
Shannon Palmer's father, Len, is talking about his late son.
The Phoenix native, who now lives east of Dallas, loved Shannon dearly. But like many parents, he had (and still has) trouble coming to grips with the reality of Shannon's serious mental illness.
"I didn't want to believe this, but Shannon was one of those who couldn't make it in society, couldn't function," Len Palmer says.
"He definitely needed to be in a mental institution, but there aren't any available. He didn't belong in some cell with a convicted murderer. Shannon was never violent, and he always was respectful to his mother and myself."
Shannon's mother, Fran Henderson, declined to speak for this story. Last month, her attorney, Ron Ozer, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court against the state corrections department and selected prison officials.
The defendants have not yet replied.
Len Palmer and Fran Henderson split up before Shannon was a teen. Palmer says their son started "becoming difficult" at a young age, and his ex-wife asked him to take primary custody when Shannon was 11 or 12.
"She said she couldn't control him," Palmer says.
Palmer says Shannon was "doing much better after all the activities I had him in — Boy Scouts, sports, and what have you."
Shannon returned to the Valley and his mom when he was about 13. But, soon, he constantly found himself in juvenile court for petty crimes and other mischief.
Next came Maricopa County Superior Court, as Shannon, who had dropped out of school, was convicted of car theft charges soon after turning 19. He served more than a year in prison, the first of his five felony and 13 misdemeanor convictions.
Palmer's mental problems were palpable, as were his ongoing issues with illegal drugs (he used methamphetamine, according to court records).
Doctors certified him in the 1990s as seriously mentally ill, making him eligible for treatment with Maricopa County's behavioral-health agency, called ComCare.
He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, a chronic mental illness in which (according to the Mayo Clinic) "a person loses touch with reality — psychosis. The classic features are having delusions and hearing things that aren't real."
By all accounts, Shannon Palmer's mother tried desperately to keep him out of trouble and sought endlessly to find him intensive mental-health help.
Nothing seemed to work, including the relationship Palmer had with a woman who gave birth to their daughter in the early '90s.
In 1993, a county judge sentenced Palmer to seven years in prison on a burglary rap.
Despite his schizophrenia, mental-health professionals repeatedly found him "competent" to stand trial, often after first deeming him "incompetent" to understand legal matters or aid with his defense.
The "restoration" process assumes that someone was competent at one time and just needs proper meds and "re-education" to move forward.
The end result for Palmer inevitably was prison, not a psychiatric ward.
He was released from custody in January 2000, with no disciplinary infractions on his prison record.
Palmer tried off and on to live independently, collecting about $600 monthly in disability income and working at times for his mother's janitorial service.
But, as Len Palmer suggests, life in society proved just too much for Shannon to handle.
In December 2003, Chandler police responded to calls of gunfire in a residential neighborhood. Officers found Palmer in his backyard, with three expended shell casings from a handgun nearby. It is unclear where he had gotten the weapon.
Palmer told the police he was "paranoid" and had taken an overdose of meds and brandy and was planning to commit suicide but lost his nerve.
He said he discharged the gun "to terminate the voices in my head."
Instead, the cops arrested Palmer for misconduct involving weapons, a crime made more serious because, as a felon, he was a "prohibited possessor" of firearms.
He was sentenced in late 2003 to nearly four more lonely years behind bars.
"It was nice to get a letter, as I have only you and my mom that write me," he wrote his father from prison in November 2006.
After his mid-2007 release, Palmer's parents found an apartment in Mesa for him and hoped for the best. His father says that arrangement lasted only a few weeks.
"He ended up back on the streets pretty quick," Len Palmer says. "But his mother made sure he had a cell phone. He called me one time. Said he had just gotten a new bedroll. A homeless guy with a cell phone. He sounded happy, but it was sad."
By late August 2008, Shannon Palmer had moved back in with his mother in Mesa, increasingly absorbed with thoughts of the "evil forces" aligned against him.
On the afternoon of August 29, Palmer walked a short distance from his mom's home to a Salt River Project power pole as one of the summer's biggest storms swept into the Valley.
Fortified with vodka, Palmer climbed about 100 feet up the pole, dangerously close to the live high-power lines.
Mesa police and fire negotiators spoke to Palmer for about two hours before he stepped down safely. It made for quite a little story on the evening news.
Palmer told police he had gone up there to "escape the feds," who were stalking him, he said.
Salt River Project officials sought prosecution, and a Mesa officer noted that Palmer "admitted knowing it was against the law to climb up the power pole."
That was enough for prosecutors.
A county grand jury indicted Palmer on several charges, the most serious being criminal damage, a felony with serious ramifications because of his prior record.
More than a year passed, as evaluators again tried to determine whether Palmer was mentally competent to stand trial and, later, whether he was competent to be sentenced.
In September 2009, a psychologist broke a tie between two other evaluators and said Palmer was fit to be sentenced to prison.
"His mother was at wit's end because of the revolving door — in and out of prison," recalls David Lockhart, his lawyer at the time. "Shannon had major underlying mental-health issues, but he seemed like more of a nuisance than a danger to the community."
A county probation officer reported to the judge what this supposedly competent gentleman had told her before sentencing:
"He [said he] had no control over his actions in the present offense, and it had nothing to do with his mental health issues. He stated that in 1999, the Marines, National Security Agency, and the U.S. Secret Service forcefully inserted a tracking device into his leg designed to follow him and tell him what to do.
"He stated they took control of his brain and made him climb up the tower so he would go back to jail and they would not have to follow him. He stated their intentions are to kill him, and he cannot stop them, as they are above the law.
"He stated they work with the Missing and Exploited Children's Foundation, and let the parents of missing children have this power to torture others, which helps alleviate their pain over losing a child."
The probation officer, Karen Vaniman, recommended a prison term, writing, "Hopefully, the defendant will take advantage of any services available to him while incarcerated and return to the community a law-abiding and productive citizen."
Jack Potts, a Phoenix psychiatrist who was one of many court-appointed mental-health experts in the case, was not as naive. He wrote that Palmer was "incompetent" and needed treatment, not prison.
"He clearly suffers from a major mental illness that needs more intensive treatment," Potts wrote. "He should be civilly committed. He does not belong in the general population of the jail, where he is likely to be in harm's way."
On September 3, 2009, county Judge Connie Contes sentenced Shannon Palmer to three years in prison, with credit for about one year already served in jail.
Palmer would be murdered and mutilated in his prison cell exactly one year and one week later.
Jasper Rushing is asked to describe his upbringing in one sentence.
"Don't need one sentence — just a couple of words," he says, a small grin sneaking up on him.
He is a small man, this killer of two men in what fairly could be termed cold blood, and is pale as a vampire after so long out of the Arizona sun.
Rushing is articulate and direct, a particularly intense listener, and an improbable bookworm. ("Books have become my life, biographies or whatever I can get my hands on," he says.)
Rushing is heavily tattooed, with some of the visible ink dominated by garish reminders of his former (he says) obsession with all things Nazi. He catches his visitor gaping at a swastika etched into the base of his middle finger.
"I was a skinhead and into a lot of other stupid white power stuff," Rushing volunteers in his matter-of-fact, hyper-controlled tone.
"I don't have those racist beliefs anymore. You realize as you get older, and you learn, that there's just so much propaganda out there, and there's messed-up people in every race, and some people who aren't so bad. You can get rid of the beliefs, but you can't rid of the tattoos."
Another tattoo crosses his upper chest at the T-shirt line.
BROKEN DREAMS, it says.
Jasper Rushing was born in Prescott on May 15, 1980, the product of the brief and unhappy union of Jim and Cheri Rushing.
Rushing would have a slew of half-brothers and sisters from both parents before he reached adulthood. But he didn't meet his father until he was 8, and their relationship was fractured after that.
His mother bounced in and out of dysfunctional relationships, living on the edge in the methamphetamine- and alcohol-soaked rural towns of Chino Valley and Paulden, north of Prescott.
Cheri Rushing sent Jasper to the state of Washington to live with his father when he was 8, but he soon wound up living for a time with his aunt (his dad's sister), uncle, and cousins.
"My parents were prepared to take him on as a son, but [Jim Rushing] stepped in and took him back, not because he wanted him; he just didn't want us to have him." says cousin Misty Shepherd of Deer Park, Washington.
"We rode horses together, and I got to know him. We had a lot of fun together. Jasper was a good guy with potential. He had problems, but he was not at all the cold-blooded type. We thought he was angry underneath because his father is not a good person, and his mother couldn't have cared less about him."
Rushing returned to his mother in Arizona, but she soon put him for a few years in Sunshine Acres Children's Home, a Christian-oriented group facility in Mesa.
"No one ever wanted him," says his half-sister Jolene Brown, who lives near Spokane, Washington.
"Neither parent ever gave a fuck about him — my dad or his mom. To me, Jasper was an older brother type, who would tickle my nose with a feather and tell me to do the right thing."
Rushing bounced back and forth between Washington and Arizona as a teen, getting deep into drugs, alcohol, and white supremacy.
He attended Chino Valley High for a few years and wrestled one year for the junior varsity, going undefeated.
But just like Shannon Palmer, he dropped out of school (both later earned their GED diplomas while behind bars) as crime predictably slipped into his mix.
By then, Rushing's mother had hooked up in Chino Valley with Rudy Gutierrez, a onetime sheriff's deputy.
Gutierrez and Jasper Rushing had a mercurial relationship, and local police records show about a dozen responses to the residence in the mid- and late 1990s because of family fighting.
Rushing served about a year in the state prison when he was 20 after violating probation on charges that included stealing a gun.
He wrote to his mother just before his release, telling her that he planned to start an Aryan Warriors chapter with other Prescott-area skinheads after being freed.
Rushing stayed out of trouble for less than six months.
On the evening of January 19, 2001, he took a 20-gauge shotgun and sneaked into Rudy Gutierrez's trailer home in Paulden.
Rushing later told police he had drunk about two dozen beers and six shots of Jack Daniel's in the previous 24 hours or so.
Rudy Gutierrez was asleep there with an ex-wife (not Rushing's mother).
Rushing aimed at Gutierrez's head and fired once.
Gutierrez died instantly.
Rushing told the ex-wife, "I'm not trying to hurt you. He raped Amy five years ago."
Rushing was referring to another half-sister of his, who would have been 11 at the time of the alleged assault.
He then called 911, advising authorities that he had just killed his stepfather after learning about the supposed rape, and surrendered to Yavapai County sheriff's deputies at the scene without incident.
The alleged victim, Amy, insisted to police that Gutierrez never had touched her inappropriately when she lived with him years earlier.
Rushing gave police the name of the girl who had told him about the alleged assault. But no evidence would emerge to suggest that Gutierrez had acted inappropriately with Amy.
Rushing pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and related charges.
A Yavapai County judge sentenced him to 25-to-life — which meant he would not be eligible for parole until serving at least 25 years — and tacked on three more years for good measure.
A probation officer interviewed Rushing before writing a pre-sentence report that sounds eerily like one of Shannon Palmer's.
"This is not to say that he would not have committed the murder had he been under a doctor's care," the officer wrote. "But using 20/20 hindsight, it is apparent he has been in need of psychological/psychiatric treatment and medication for some time."
Arizona Department of Corrections communications director Barrett Marson describes how things are supposed to work.
"Inmates housed together in a cell are screened through a compatibility process and matched together based on crimes, sentence length, and physical characteristics," he says.
"This helps to ensure no inmate has a physical advantage over another."
As for inmates suffering from serious mental illness, he says that "trained staff diagnose inmates with mental-health needs to determine the proper housing. [We] set aside housing areas specifically designed for inmates with mental-health issues."
If those policies actually had been in play in September 2010, Shannon Palmer might still be alive today.
Palmer never knew Jasper Rushing before they met in Cell A-26 on August 19.
Though incarcerated for first-degree murder, Rushing was considered only a medium-risk prisoner after years behind bars and few serious disciplinary dings on his record.
Prison officials saw Palmer as little risk to anyone but possibly to himself and housed him in mid-2010 in a minimum-security protective segregation unit (Eagle Point, also at the Lewis Prison).
Palmer befriended fellow inmate Shannon Clark on the yard at Eagle Point.
"He was severely delusional and paranoid in my opinion, probably a schizophrenic," Clark writes to New Times. "It was obvious to anybody who talked to him. He asked me if I could get his story out there."
Clark describes how Palmer "seemed to believe that the U.S. government wanted him dead. He told me that the CIA put an implant in his thigh and there were assassins, wearing 'shimmer suits' that made them invisible at the Eagle Point Unit fence, waiting to kill him. He seemed very scared for his life. He also told me repetitively that he was a good person and would never hurt anybody. He seemed to be a genuine but ill person. Harmless."
Prison officials occasionally moved Palmer into mental-health units for short stints of what passes there as "treatment."
The authorities placed Jasper Rushing into a protective segregation unit (not Eagle Point) in May 2009, for reasons Rushing will not discuss publicly that are not part of the public record.
Ex-prison warden Carl ToersBijns cautions that a protective custody jacket does not ensure an inmate's safety in his or her new "alternative placement" yard.
"You still get your pedigree run by those who run the yard," he says. "The pedigree must be clean of sex offenses, child abuse, and other 'non-acceptable' crimes on the yard in question, as many have their own set of rules or exceptions . . . It depends on the individual's ability to get along with his own race, his money on the books, his willingness to participate in their yard activities — drugs, gambling, store extortion, rent, protection games."
Shannon Palmer had gained protective-segregation status in November 2009, just a few months after his incarceration.
But on August 14, 2010, he "refused to house" — that is, he declined to return to his cell at Eagle Point.
The reason he gave officers was not the CIA or invisible assassins:
"All the inmates on the yard want to assault him because they think he is a sex offender," an internal memo said, repeating Palmer's initial claim.
It later came to light, however, that Palmer apparently had incurred a $42 gambling debt and feared reprisals.
Officials moved Palmer to an "isolation cell" inside the Buckley Unit, Cell A-26. He was in a holding pattern until authorities figured out what to do with him.
The cells are aptly named, as inmates are treated much the same as those in the dreaded supermax unit in Florence. That is, locked up and closely monitored around the clock.
It was solitary confinement that, for Shannon Palmer, wasn't solitary for long.
On August 19, Jasper Rushing also refused to house, claiming extortion by three inmates.
This is where the system — actually several Lewis Prison officials — failed both Shannon Palmer and, in a twisted sense, Jasper Rushing.
For starters,they were putting two inmates instead of one in the small isolation cell at Buckley to handle overflow of so-called "detention inmates."
Corrections officer Kimberly Churchwell later told investigators that her job was to pair two "compatible" inmates who needed to be housed in detention or isolation cells.
She would review the inmates' height, weight, race, gang status (if any), history of institutional violence, and, finally, what they were incarcerated for and for how long.
From the Arizona Department of Corrections internal investigative report:
"Churchwell stated, based upon the policy and procedures in place at the time, [that] the placement of Palmer and Rushing in the same isolation cell was acceptable."
Jasper Rushing moved in with Shannon Palmer last August 19, hoping, he says, to spend a short time there before getting sent to another unit.
Having gotten there first, Palmer got the sole bed in the cell. Rushing was given a roll-up mattress to put on the floor.
Officers allowed Rushing to take one disposable twin-blade razor with him into his new digs, which may or may not have been within policy (depending on which prison official was talking to investigators after the murder).
Investigators later concluded that "there were conflicting descriptions of how the isolation cells were classified, and differences in how the inmates assigned to the isolation cells were managed."
Those "differences" would allow Rushing the opportunity to murder and mutilate his cellmate.
"He wasn't acting weird at first," Jasper Rushing says of Shannon Palmer.
"Then he started acting really goofy. I think he was crazy to start with, and the situation in that cell was making him crazier. And it was doing a number on me, too."
Days passed, and the inmates were forced to endure each other (and themselves) in a setting reminiscent of descriptions of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.
Rushing and Palmer were locked up for all but a half-hour of exercise and a shower every two days. They each could make one 20-minute phone call each week.
The cells have a trap on the thick metal door that officers open from the outside to push through a prisoner's food tray.
A window on the top part of the door looks out onto a stark hallway. That window is all that separates inmates from being encased in a concrete tomb.
Isolation cells are not meant for the claustrophobic. In fact, A-26 is almost as restrictive as any cell on Arizona's death row, located in Florence.
If it wasn't bad enough, the lights went out in the cell on August 24. It was day five of what turned out to be 23 days that Rushing and Palmer were locked up together in A-26.
Work records from the Buckley Unit show that prison officials tried to fix the lights inside the cell, but to no avail.
That left the men literally in a twilight zone, with the barest ambient light from the hallway sneaking in through the cell-door window.
Conversations between the inmates grew tense and increasingly strange, Rushing says.
One day, Rushing says, Palmer mentioned the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children — a centerpiece in Palmer's long-held delusion.
"I thought it was funny he mentioned that organization," Rushing says. "I've been donating $10 to them for several years now — you can look it up. I don't like people who mess with women and children, and this guy was starting to say things about kids. I didn't like his lack of respect."
Both men spoke by phone with their mothers the day before the murder. Neither mentioned the other during their 20-minute chats, recordings of which New Times has heard.
Rushing sounds subdued but focused, saying he doesn't know how much longer he would be in isolation.
"Hopefully not too much longer," Rushing says. "Honestly, I'm starting to formulate my own plan. Do you think we're intelligent enough to know when it's [your] time to call it [a day]?"
Mom says she doesn't know.
"I think that's the road I'm going down," he continues. "But I don't want it to be a great big surprise on your part. Everybody else will get over it."
Rushing says he has asked for psychiatric help, "but there is no hope to be had, and there is no help to be had. It's the same for everyone here."
(Rushing tells New Times, "You can read whatever you want into what I told my mom. I was thinking that I'm not going to live in a bullshit situation for the rest of my life. I was thinking about ending things for myself, not killing Shannon Palmer.")
Palmer's conversation with his mother contains idle talk about family until he interrupts her, a sudden passion in his voice.
"Mom, I can't hold back anymore," he says. "I just don't know how to explain to you what I'm going through. You don't understand. I've got some serious people trying to take my life."
"Well, son," she replies.
"No, no, no," Palmer says loudly. "Don't say nothing, please. Allow me to say something. You don't understand what I got myself into two years ago. Mom, the National Center for Abused and Exploited Children Foundation and the goddamned Central Intelligence Agency — all they do is go coast-to-coast across the United States of America looking for the annual 100 children who come up missing by stranger abduction.
"And they popped something into my leg that you wouldn't understand. It's out of this world, Mom. They've been working on it since World War II. They're going to liquidate my ass. And I don't have no way of telling my mom what I'm going through and, pretty soon, I'm gonna be dead."
"No, you're not," is all Palmer's mother can muster.
Their time is up.
"I love you, Mom," he tells her.
"I love you, son."
Jasper Rushing says it went from bad to worse on the evening before he killed Shannon Palmer.
"The guy literally drank a whole bag of coffee and he was speed-talking all this crazy shit, nonstop," he tells New Times.
Rushing stares hard at his questioner when asked why he didn't just tell authorities that things were moving to a boiling point.
"Shannon already had asked to get out of there because he was fearing for his life, and gave them that 'kite,'" he finally says. "I was right there, and the cops literally laughed at him. When someone says that, it's not a big deal — it's prison."
Rushing and Palmer ate breakfast on the morning of September 10 and settled in for another creepy day in the dark.
Actually, Rushing says, he recently had been allowed to plug a small "inmate's lamp" into an outlet just outside A-26, and it was providing a bit more light — more shadows than anything.
Corrections officer Joel Valdovinos was on his rounds right before 1 p.m., delivering lunch and checking on inmates in the four isolation cells in Building A.
A minute or two before Valdovinos entered the area pushing a lunch cart, inmate Joel Hughes claims to have heard choking and gurgling sounds coming from A-26.
Hughes said in his recent interview that he heard about 20 to 25 loud bangs, as if someone was being "bounced off the wall."
Hughes hollered, "Is everything all right over there?" To which he said Rushing had replied, "Just a minute."
Within seconds, Officer Valdovinos opened up the trap on the door to deliver the lunch trays one at a time.
To his shock, Rushing popped his head out and told him, "I just killed my cellie."
"Are you fucking kidding me?" the officer replied, immediately shining his flashlight into the cell. He didn't see anything for a moment.
"It's pitch-black — you can't see in there," he later told investigators. "[The lights] had been out for a long time."
Then Valdovinos saw Shannon Palmer, unconscious on the bed and bleeding profusely from the neck, his left arm dangling.
Valdovinos didn't immediately notice that Palmer's penis had been ripped from his body and was on the floor.
The officer ordered Rushing to turn around and be cuffed through the trap door.
Rushing, he said, "was calm as day."
Rushing told him that the handcrafted shank was over at the sink, and he allowed Valdovinos to cuff him without resistance as a small army of other officers and medical personnel rushed into the wing.
Sergeant Raymundo Trujillo assumed command and took Rushing out of the cell and into the hallway.
Trujillo later told investigators that Rushing counseled him, saying "If any of you guys are really squeamish, don't go in there."
Captain Ron Lawrence and others started doing CPR on Palmer, who somehow was still alive, but barely.
"Frankly it was so horrific, I didn't want my staff to see that," he told investigators. "The inmate was making that horrible sucking, wheezing sound as he was trying to draw air through the cuts in his throat."
Palmer died soon after that.
Later, Officer Valdovinos said, Rushing had provided him with a motive:
"You fuck with women and children, then you're gonna fuck with a real man."
What Rushing apparently meant were suggestive remarks he claims Palmer made about one of Rushing's young nieces. (Rushing had a photo of the girl in the cell.)
The viciousness and depravity of the murder sent shockwaves through the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Press releases tried to mitigate the horrific incident, noting that Shannon Palmer was a "repeat offender," as if climbing a power pole put him in the same category of criminal as convicted killer Jasper Rushing.
The releases did not mention the mutilation, which became public only after someone tipped off KPHO, a Phoenix television station.
Then the Palmer/Rushing case went away.
But an internal probe continued until lead investigator Curtis Steger submitted his detailed findings last November.
The corrections department then punished three of its employees for their responsibility in approving an inmate match made in hell.
The three were:
• Deputy warden Quency Owens: 40 hours without pay for aggravated neglect of duty and disregarding directives, policies, guidelines, or procedures.
• Corrections officer Kimberly Churchwell (who had brought Rushing and Palmer together): 40 hours without pay for the same reasons.
• Captain Ron Lawrence: 24 hours without pay for inefficiency and failure to exercise proper supervision over employees. Lawrence was the officer who led the heroic efforts to try to save Shannon Palmer.
A few weeks ago, a county judge heard legal motions from defense lawyers representing Jasper Rushing in the capital first-degree murder case.
His lead attorney, assistant public defender Billy Little Jr., told Judge Joseph Kreamer that it shouldn't be a death penalty case because of the extraordinarily ill-fated circumstances that brought the inmates together.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"There's no doubt — everyone knows he's the one who did it," Little Jr. said, gesturing toward his handcuffed and shackled client.
"But there's a shared responsibility here. They put a psychotic individual in a small cell with a guy known to be violent. I'm confident the jury won't give him the death penalty."
Prosecutor Jeanette Gallagher replied, "Mr. Little and I can agree to disagree on this, but this is a poster child for the death penalty."
In the spectator's galley, Shannon Palmer's mother wept.