Prison Murders



The Sacramento Bee's Crime blog is a comprehensive report of crime news, trends and information for your community and beyond.

March 3, 2009

Folsom man identified as inmate killed in Fresno County prison
From Andy Furillo:

Fresno County authorities have identified the Sacramento-area man slain in his cell at Pleasant Valley State Prison last week as 35-year-old Jason Shawn Cannon of Folsom.

The coroner's office said that Cannon died of a ligature strangulation. Sheriff's investigators identified Cannon's cellmate in the prison's administrative segregation unit, Marcus Faulk, 27, of San Bernardino County, as the suspect in the homicide.

Sacramento County court records show that Cannon has a criminal history that dates back at least to 1992. He was serving a 32-month sentence at the time of his death after pleading no contest in July 2007 to felony resisting arrest.

Cannon also had done prison time in the past for assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, receiving stolen property and drug convictions. He was accused of murder in 1993 but the charge was dismissed. He pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon in the same case, according to court records.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Another suicide or another cover-up?
Lawyer makes the case that his brother was tortured, murdered in federal prison

Posted: October 13, 1997
1:00 am Eastern

By Sarah Foster 

In another life, Kenneth Trentadue had been a bank robber. After serving seven years of a 20-year sentence, he was paroled in 1988 and, as ex-cons are supposed to do, tried to put his criminal past behind him. He got a job with a construction firm, married, and in June, 1995, became the proud father of a son. By all appearances, Trentadue, 44, had successfully turned his life around and had everything to live for.

But he had one problem -- a minor parole violation on his record from 1989. The law caught up with him a month after his son's birth, and he was arrested. On Aug. 18 he was flown from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego to the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City, a major facility of the Justice Department's Bureau of Prisons, to await his hearing. According to family members, he wasn't worried. At most his sentence would be six months, more likely, three. He'd probably be home for Christmas.

The Federal Transfer Center is a new, $80 million high-tech facility at the edge of Will Rogers World Airport. It's not only the transfer point for prisoners being taken to penitentiaries in the federal prison system, it also houses the parole board and hearing rooms.

Like everyone who is admitted into the prison system, Kenneth underwent routine psychological tests to determine if he had suicidal tendencies. The results indicated he didn't. Nevertheless, he was placed, for some unknown reason, in a specially designed, suicide-proof cell in a special unit on the seventh floor that's segregated from the general prison population. A form bearing the signature Vance Brockway -- an lais he used in his bank robbery days -- indicates he asked to be placed in protective custody. Family members say it was a forgery.

On Aug. 21, 1995, Trentadue died in that isolation cell. Officials promptly declared the death a suicide. Trentadue, who was scheduled for a parole hearing, hanged himself from an air vent using a 23-inch length of braid he fashioned from a bedsheet, according to prison officials. The following day the Inspector General's Office of the Justice Department ruled that no "prosecutable federal crime had occurred."

Two years later, that's still the official government line despite a staggering amount of evidence indicating Trentadue was murdered.

Kenneth's mother, Wilma Trentadue of Westminster, Calif., was the first family member to learn of his death. The phone call from acting warden Marie Carter came at 6:40 a.m., informing her that her son had committed suicide a few hours earlier, sometime between 9 p.m. the night before and 3 a.m. that morning. Carter offered to have the body cremated at prison expense. Suspicious, Mrs. Trentadue said she'd consult Kenneth's wife and his brother, Jesse Trentadue, a Salt Lake City attorney.

Wife? Brother? Prison records didn't show he was married. Nor was there any record of his having a trial lawyer -- a former law professor -- for a brother. The records listed his mother and sister as his only family.

Jesse Trentadue was as suspicious as his mother. No cremation, he said, and directed the body be sent to a funeral parlor near Kenneth's home in Westminster. It was five days before the casket arrived. Kenneth's face was covered with an unusually thick coating of pancake makeup. His broad, six-foot frame had been dressed in a suit.

"They (Kenneth's mother, his wife Carmen, and sister Donna) scraped off the makeup and found he was bruised from the top of his head to the soles of his feet," says George Hansen, former seven-term Republican congressman from Idaho and founder of the U.S. Citizens Commission on Human Rights -- a newly-formed grass-roots organization which has been working closely with the Trentadue family. "An autopsy showed he had been garrotted -- probably with the braided sheet. His throat was cut and torn out. His head was smashed in three places. He had been burned on the face, shoulders and tailbone with an electrical stun-gun. Under his arms were deep bruises showing how he had been held while others beat up on him. There was blood all over the place, according to the guy that had to clean it up afterwards. It was a fight for his life."

The cover-up of this ghastly crime began before the victim was dead.

A call to 911 was made at approximately 3:20 a.m., but when the paramedics arrived they weren't allowed in the cell to resuscitate Trentadue, though supposedly he was still alive. Minutes later -- having been sent away, then called back to confirm his death -- they were told the massive injuries they saw on the body (now removed to another room) were caused by Trentadue falling and hitting his head on the sink while trying to hang himself. They never saw the death cell itself.

Investigators for Dr. Fred Jordan, Oklahoma City's chief medical examiner, were also denied access to the scene -- a violation of state and federal law, according to Jesse Trentadue. This, despite the fact that Jordan's job includes investigating the deaths of prisoners at the center. Jordan performed an autopsy that morning and ruled that Kenneth Trentadue had died of asphyxiation, in a manner "unknown."

Without viewing the death scene, the medical examiner refused to declare the obviously battered body a suicide. Jordan asked the FBI to investigate the death, but that agency soon turned the investigation over to the Bureau of Prisons.

Wallace Cheney, assistant director of the Bureau of Prisons, tried to assuage concerns raised by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In a letter to the senator dated April 4, 1996, Cheney wrote:

"On that same morning (August 21), a representative of the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office came to the institution, viewed Kenneth Michael Trentadue and examined the cell. The cell had not been disturbed except for the removal of the body."

Jordan has publicly discounted that statement as "a lie." No one from his office was granted access for five months. By then the cell had been cleaned many times. Yet when the medical examiner's chief investigator Kevin Rowland applied Luminol, a chemical able to detect blood invisible to the eye, "the place lit up like a Christmas tree," Jordan says.

This corroborates descriptions by a prisoner who cleaned the cell within hours of the death, and of Rasonda Chisholm, a licensed practical nurse, who supervised the work.

"It was a bloodbath," said former inmate orderly Steven Cole. "There was blood on the floor and splattered all over the walls." There were bloody fingerprints around the alarm button near the door inside the cell. "From those fingerprints, it seemed to me as though he had been trying to reach the alarm button when he was killed," he said.

Chisholm recalled asking the attending officer about the blood. She was told Trentadue was so determined to commit suicide that he bashed his skull during a fall, then climbed on the sink to finish the job.

"I can't imagine, you know, losing that much blood and apiece of your skulland you're able to climb back up on the sink," said Chisholm.

With dogged determination, Jesse Trentadue compiled a mass of compelling evidence that counters the official version of his brother's death at every point -- including depositions from key witnesses. Eventually, Attorney General Janet Reno was forced to order a federal grand jury investigation. One has been meeting off and on since last October. Trentadue calls the proceedings "a sham." Witnesses Cole, Chisholm and others haven't been called, though their names were given to the federal prosecutor.

Last April, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, attempted to get some explanations from Reno during a committee hearing on the Justice Department's budget.

"I fear the Department is not taking this investigation seriously," he told her. Hatch said the department had denied his requests for information because, he was told, an investigation was "pending."

Reno promised to check with the prosecutors "to make sure that everything is being done that we can do."

Hatch tried again. "Two or three hours a month is not a very active grand jury," he said. "It looks as though somebody in the Bureau of Prisons, or having relationships with the Bureau of Prisons, murdered the man."

Reno said she couldn't comment, but agreed to have the matter "vigorously pursued."

Fortunately, the federal grand jury isn't the only vehicle for getting at the truth. Jesse Trentadue has filed a civil suit against officials of the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons for wrongful death and violation of civil rights. And an Oklahoma county grand jury, empaneled to probe further in the Oklahoma City bombing case, is also investigating the Trentadue death, prompted by the efforts of Dr. Jordan and former Rep. Hansen.

"We know a great deal about the case," says Hansen. "We know it was done by a 12-man SORT (Special Operations Response Team) outfit in full riot gear. We know the names of the people who cleaned up the cell and of the guy in the laundry room when the guards brought in their bloody clothes. We have the names of the guys who were on the shift that probably did the killing. They've been turned over to the grand juries."

What's not known is why. Hansen speculates: "One scenario is, he was a bad apple and got in a fight with the guards. But that doesn't fit from what we know about him -- and it doesn't explain why he was killed. Another scenario is the guards figured he had heard something and tried to beat it (the information) out of him. And things got out of control."

"No matter who did it or why, there are eight killers walking around free," says Hansen "We want them arrested and brough to justice even if they do work for the federal government."

Jesse Trentadue also wonders. "I go round and round on that 24 hours a day," he says. "I still have no answers."

"They didn't only kill him, he was extensively tortured first -- then they killed him and tried to cover it up," said Jesse Trentadue. "It's not just the guards at the prison who are trying to cover this up. It's coming from the highest levels of the Justice Department.",1,4620694.story

Shooting Death of Inmate at Issue
Prison officials say use of deadly force by guard was needed to protect another prisoner during a riot, but witnesses raise questions.
By Mark Arax
Times Staff Writer

October 21, 2003

FRESNO In the days after a guard shot and killed an inmate at Pleasant Valley State Prison last week, corrections staff said a "major riot" involving 300 prisoners had led to the shooting. The use of deadly force, they said, stopped one particularly savage brawl that threatened the life of an inmate.

But prison videotapes and eyewitness accounts detail a far smaller incident involving about 50 inmates in the recreation yard where the deadly shot rang out, according to Fresno County sheriff's investigators. No inmate in the yard carried a weapon or caused serious injury to another inmate, corrections officials now acknowledge.

The inmate whose life was said to have been in danger walked away from the fight with bruises on his face, corrections officials said. Likewise, no guard faced imminent peril.

Two teams of investigators one from the sheriff's office and one from the state Department of Corrections are now probing the Oct. 12 incident, only the second fatal shooting at a California prison since deadly force guidelines were tightened in 1999. 

Corrections officials say it is too early to determine whether the shooting was justified. But in past probes, they acknowledge, the absence of weapons and "imminent great bodily harm" have led investigators to rule such shootings unjustified, costing the state millions of dollars in victim settlements.

"Each shooting is fully investigated not just by a corrections team, but by outside law enforcement," said Margot Bach, a state corrections spokeswoman. "There's a lot more work to do before determining whether this shooting is justified or not."

The Fresno County coroner's office said Alejandro Enriquez, a 28-year-old Los Angeles man serving a 15-years-to-life sentence for second-degree murder, was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest. Prison staff say he was the aggressor in one of several fistfights that erupted in the Facility B yard at the prison in the rural town of Coalinga.

They say Enriquez refused to heed repeated warnings to stop brawling and continued pummeling another inmate even after guards fired five rounds of nonlethal wood blocks.

"It appears that [Enriquez] was the aggressor and was beating a defenseless inmate," said Lt. Paul Sanchez, the prison's spokesman. "One officer fired a warning shot and the second officer fired for effect. I imagine they perceived it to be a life-threatening situation."

But one corrections administrator, who asked not to be named for fear of job retaliation, said the fact that the victim in the fight was not badly injured raises serious questions about the shooting. "Our shooting policy is pretty clear. You don't fire a deadly round to stop a fight unless you're darn sure an inmate is about to be killed." 

The shooting took place near the same dining hall where inmate Octavio Orozco, 23, was shot and killed by a correctional officer in 1998. In the weeks after that shooting, a high-ranking female administrator went public with charges that Orozco's death had resulted from a grave miscalculation by a careless guard. The fight posed no serious harm to inmates or staff, she argued, and could have been stopped any number of ways short of a gunshot. 

Orozco, who was serving a nine-year sentence for drug dealing, was one of 39 inmates to die statewide during the 1990s as a result of California's controversial practice of shooting at prisoners engaged in fistfights and melees. After a yearlong probe by The Times that ended with the state's reversing its stance and declaring many of the shootings unjustified, the policy on using deadly force was changed.

The new policy makes firing live rounds from a Mini 14 semiautomatic rifle a last resort. A shot to kill is warranted only to prevent an inmate from escaping or causing catastrophic injuries to staff or another inmate. 

The Orozco family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit that was settled in February for $600,000. 

The Facility B unit at Pleasant Valley houses about 1,200 inmates more than double its capacity. To ease overcrowding, some inmates are housed in the gym. During the evening meal on Oct. 12, guards were releasing inmates from one building when a fight broke out between two prisoners from rival Mexican groups.

Officers stopped the fight and placed the two inmates back in their cells, according to an official account. After both inmates assured guards that no bad blood existed between the groups, the releases of prisoners for the evening meal continued. A few minutes later, however, two more inmates from the same groups began fighting in the yard, which is the size of 1 1/2 football fields, according to prison staff. That fight touched off a melee involving 50 other inmates in the same yard.

"All the Southern Hispanics began to run from everywhere to the fight," Sanchez said. "Inmates in the gym and the dining hall could see the yard fight and then they began fighting too. This was a classic example of how a single incident can escalate into a major riot involving 300 inmates."

But Fresno County sheriff's investigators say videotapes and witness accounts portray not one major riot involving 300 inmates, but three separate fights in three distinct parts of Facility B. As about 50 inmates got involved in fighting or threatening to fight in the yard, other disturbances involving 250 inmates broke out in the gym and dining hall, they say.

Guards were able to bring peace to the gym and dining hall by using pepper spray and shouting verbal warnings to "get down." But the fight in the yard persisted until two guards, one standing in a gun post tower and the other in the second-floor control booth, fired two live rounds in the yard.

"The fight in the yard starts out with 30 or 40 inmates and then others run over to join in," said Sgt. Bob Moore, who heads the sheriff's team. 

"There is major pummeling going on by more than one person, and officers form a skirmish line. Because the video pans back and forth, you lose a lot of what's going on.

"At some point, the majority of the yard goes down, but a pocket of inmates are still fighting," Moore continued. "That's when two live rounds are fired, one as a warning and the other striking an inmate in the chest."

Sanchez, the prison spokesman, defended the actions of the two guards who fired the shots. He said they followed the department's policy of escalating force: verbal warnings, pepper spray, firing nonlethal wood block rounds, firing a live warning shot and then finally firing a round "for effect."

"It's a very difficult decision," he said. "You have only a second or two to make it. This one inmate was defenseless. If they don't react and he takes a kick in the head, he can die."

But Bach, the corrections spokeswoman, acknowledged that the only weapons retrieved were found in the dining hall and gym, where no shots were fired. The inmate beaten by Enriquez declined to be sent to an outside hospital and was treated at the prison infirmary for facial bruises and swelling. 

The two guards who fired the live rounds have been placed on leave pending the outcome of the sheriff's investigation. A probe by the corrections Deadly Force Investigative Team is also underway. 

Since the shooting policy was revamped in 1999, only one other inmate has been shot and killed by a corrections officer. In February 2000 at Pelican Bay prison near the California-Oregon border, a riot involving 300 inmates in the exercise yard ended in gunfire.

Nearly 90 weapons were found and dozens of inmates who had fought were sent to the hospital with injuries.

Coalinga prison guard kills inmate in riot 
By Donald E. Coleman
The Fresno Bee
Published 10/14/03 09:01:00

A guard shot and killed an inmate Sunday night in a riot involving about 300 prisoners at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga.

While unsure of the cause of the disturbance, a prison spokesman said the prison has 5,000 inmates in a setting designed for 2,500.

"Overcrowding is always a problem," said Lt. Paul Sanchez, a prison spokesman. "We have 250 inmates in a gym. It becomes a dangerous situation. We're at 200% of maximum."

He said the prisoners, some of who are serving life terms, are designated one level below maximum security and should be housed in cells with gun coverage and with a secured perimeter.

The melee started about 6:45 p.m. in a recreation yard after some exchanges between Mexican nationals and other Hispanic inmates, Sanchez said.

The fighting spilled into a dining room and a gymnasium, where some African-American inmates jumped in.

Guards took about 15 or 20 minutes to quell the disturbance, which subsided after shots from at least one guard killed the inmate, whose identity is being withheld pending notification of relatives.

Four inmates were taken to hospitals outside the prison for non-life-threatening injuries, Sanchez said.

He added that no guards were wounded.

Sanchez said at least two corrections officers are on leave pending an investigation by the Fresno County Sheriff's Department. A spokesperson confirmed that the department is investigating.

Inmates will be confined to their cells until prison officials complete their investigation.

"Some areas could be back to normal within a few days, but the 'B' facility could take a week or two," Sanchez said. "This is not your typical street shooting. We have 1,200 guys that could be witnesses, and they all might have different stories."

The fatal shooting was the second by guards since the prison opened in 1994.

In May 1998, Octavio Orozco, 23, of Los Angeles was shot by a guard in a dining hall melee.

In February 2000, the only other officer-involved shooting at a state prison since Orozco left one inmate dead and 32 wounded at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City.

In 1994, the shooting death of Preston Tate at Corcoran State Prison brought national media attention to that institution after reports of more than 40 inmate shootings from 1989 to 1995, seven of them fatal.

In the past decade, at least a dozen Corcoran correction officers were prosecuted in criminal jury trials and found not guilty of prisoner abuse.

Orozco's family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in 1999.

It was settled for $600,000 last February.

The shooting was investigated for possible charges, but the Fresno County District Attorney's Office decided against bringing a criminal complaint against the guards or the inmates.

Sanchez said the Coalinga prison has had several disturbances since Orozco's death, but that the state's deadly force policy has decreased the number of fatalities.

"It makes deadly force the last option," Sanchez said. "This one escalated far beyond what was expected."

Verbal commands, tear gas, wooden batons and pepper spray are all tools guards must use before firing, Sanchez said.

He said inmates in Sunday's disturbance failed to comply with demands to stop the rioting.

Sanchez said authorities will conduct interviews with many of the inmates housed in the section where the fight broke out.

What lies ahead for prison officials is trying to determine the nature and cause of the disturbance, whether there will be retaliation by inmates and how it spilled into other areas.

Witness questioning will involve more than verbal inquiries.

"We'll look for signs of altercations, bumps, bruises and scratches," Sanchez said. "We'll rely heavily on injuries. There are no reasons inmates should be walking around with fresh injuries. Usually, if they're hurt playing basketball or something, they'll report it immediately in case something like this happens."

Because of the holiday, Department of Corrections officials in Sacramento could not be reached.

The reporter can be reached at  or 441-6360.

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