Georgia's top Department of Corrections official has now acknowledged that one of two recent "suicides" on Georgia's death row may not have been a suicide.
And while Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens told his board Thursday the GBI is investigating the death, a GBI spokesman on Friday said that was not the case.
During the agency's board meeting, Owens was asked about the inmates' deaths. "One of them may not be a suicide," Owens told the board, according to a transcript of the meeting.
On Dec. 6, condemned killer Timothy Pruitt died at Augusta State Medical Prison after sustaining injuries on Nov. 19. On New Year's Day, guards found death-row inmate Leeland Mark Braley hanging in his cell. Both were housed on death row at the state Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.
A number of family members of death-row inmates have said Pruitt's death was not a suicide and that he was likely killed by another death row inmate, Sara Totonchi, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said Friday.
At Thursday's meeting, board member Roger Garrison asked Owens if the GBI is investigating Pruitt's death. . "Yes, sir," Owens replied.
But on Friday, GBI spokesman John Bankhead said Corrections investigators only consulted with a GBI investigator about Pruitt's death. "As far as the GBI being actively involved in investigating either of these cases, we're not involved because we weren't asked," Bankhead said.
Corrections officials initially called Pruitt's death an "alleged suicide." Pruitt, 43, was sentenced to death for the 1992 rape and murder of Wendy Vincent, a 10-year-old Lumpkin County girl. Braley, 35, was sentenced to death in 1999 for the kidnapping and stabbing death of Kelli Hammond, an insurance agent from Zebulon.
Totonchi has said that death-row inmates may be preparing to wage a hunger strike because of recent get-tough measures imposed by Corrections officials. The prison recently eliminated all contact visits between inmates and their families and restricted prisoners to their cells all but one hour each day. ..Source.. Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Was death row inmate murdered?
Inquest to be held for Pruitt, whose Dec. 6 death was first reported as suicide
A coroner’s inquest will be held in the strangulation death of a Lumpkin County man on Georgia’s death row that some believe was a murder.
The Dec. 6 death of Timothy Pruitt was first reported as the result of an apparent suicide.
Pruitt, 43, spent 12 years at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison awaiting execution for the 1992 rape and murder of 10-year-old Wendy Nicole Vincent of Dahlonega. He died 17 days after he was found hanging by a bed sheet in his cell at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.
Butts County Coroner Ralph Wilson said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the death of Pruitt and another death row inmate, Leeland Mark Braley, who was found hanging in his cell Jan. 1.
Wilson said witnesses will be supoenaed and juries seated to hear evidence about both deaths in separate inquests. He said he is waiting for the GBI and the Georgia Department of Corrections to wrap up their probes before scheduling the inquests.
Braley’s death is generally accepted as a suicide, but many within Georgia’s prisoner advocacy community believe Pruitt was murdered by another inmate, said Sara Totonchi, Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights and a member of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
“He was in the process of writing a letter to his fiance at the time of his death,” Totonchi said.
The Georgia Department of Corrections did not return several phone and e-mail messages seeking comment last week.
Kari Ohland, who said she visited Pruitt every weekend and was his fiance, said she spoke with Pruitt the day he was found hanged.
She said the letter that Pruitt was writing to her that day was later found and sent to her.
“There was no indication he was suicidal,” she said. “Not at all. He was saying how excited he was to see me that weekend. There’s no way he choked himself.”
Ohland said she was later told by another death row inmate, Michael Nance, that convicted quadruple killer Jerry William Jones was seen going into Pruitt’s cell shortly before he was found. Inmates’ cell doors were open and guards stayed inside observation booths during certain times of the day, she said.
Since the two deaths, death row has been on 23-hour a day lockdown, with no contact visits for inmates, Totonchi said.
Ohland said she refuses to believe Pruitt’s death was a suicide.
“There’s no way he would have done that to me,” she said. ..Source.. by Stephen Gurr