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8 Charged in '03 Prison Riot Killings

Inmates face murder counts over the slayings of two convicts in a melee at the privately run Eagle Mountain in Riverside County.

March 04, 2004|Louis Sahagun and Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writers

Capping a four-month law enforcement probe into a deadly riot at a privately run prison, eight inmates were charged with murder Wednesday in connection with the October melee that left two convicts dead at the Eagle Mountain state prison south of Palm Springs.

Six additional inmates were charged with assault with a deadly weapon, following a Riverside County district attorney and Sheriff's Department inquiry into the 90-minute fight among 150 inmates armed with barbecue skewers, meat cleavers, two-by-fours and broom handles.

"The evidence will show [the defendants'] behavior was animalistic, primitive and racially motivated," said Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Ulli McNulty, who is handling the case. "The crime scene they left behind was death and devastation."

A Riverside County Superior Court judge in Indio agreed to postpone the arraignments of all but one of the 14 defendants until March 17. The other defendant had been jailed in Los Angeles County on an unrelated charge and will probably also have a March 17 arraignment.

Three of the 14 inmates each face two murder charges for the deaths of Master Leroy Hampton, 34, who was serving a 16-month term for a drug offense, and Rodman Fitzgerald Wallace, 39, who was serving two years for burglary, both of Los Angeles County.

Those charged with two murder counts are David Olivares, 31, Peter Cardenas Morales, 23, and Jason Samuel Hernandez, 29. Facing one count of murder are Hector Ramirez Careyo, 32; Anthony Ramirez Rimoldi, 38; Eric Stephen Lewis, 33; Jose Luis Rodriguez, 35; and Byron Walter Mayfield, 35.

The inmates charged with murder also will be charged with special allegations that the crimes were race-related, subjecting them to the death penalty or a life-without-parole sentence if convicted, authorities said.

Seven of those charged with murder were arrested while in custody at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe, authorities said. A few others, however, had been released from custody and were under supervision. Olivares was in custody in Los Angeles County.

Riverside County Sheriff's Department homicide investigator Ben Ramirez said the case is still under investigation and that "there's still a possibility of additional suspects being filed on." However, McNulty said he did not expect other inmates to be charged with murder.

The trouble began at 7 p.m. on Oct. 25 after a fight between a Latino and an African American in a recreation room while inmates were watching the World Series, according to court documents. It soon erupted into an all-out brawl that spilled outside, into the prison's weightlifting area.

Dozens of officers from the two state prisons in Blythe were called in to help end the situation that had escalated as Latino, white and African American inmates began pitching rocks at one another and arming themselves with whatever they could get their hands on: meat cleavers, forks and knives seized from a kitchen, fire extinguishers, broom handles, two-by-fours, crutches and chair legs.

Numerous African American inmates suffered cuts and bruises when they tried to escape the fray by scaling a 12-foot fence.

Hampton and Wallace, however, didn't make it over the fence and were swarmed by Latino and white inmates swinging weapons.

Hampton and Wallace were each stabbed more than a dozen times in the head and upper torso, authorities said.

The Riverside County district attorney's complaint against the inmates alleges that Morales used a shank and barbecue fork to attack Wallace and a pole and pipe to injure Hampton; that Hernandez attacked Wallace and Hampton with a shank and knife; and that Olivares used a shank on Wallace and a pole and pipe against Hampton. Defendants Lewis and Mayfield apparently used a crutch in their combined attack on Hampton, authorities said, Rimoldi allegedly hacked Hampton with a meat cleaver, and Rodriguez is said to have stabbed Hampton with a knife.

The riot was quelled when a corrections officer fired a warning shot into the ground near a room where African American inmates had gathered. After security was restored, officers determined that Hampton and Wallace had died and that six African American inmates and one Asian inmate had been severely injured.

The deaths were the first violence-related fatalities at any of the nine California prisons run by private corporations under contract with the state at that time.

The violence caused about $15,000 in property damage -- broken windows, torn fencing, smashed furniture -- at the prison, which was among three private corrections facilities closed two months later as part of a state cost-cutting move.

The sheriff's investigation involved more than 500 interviews, dozens of lineups, and high-tech forensic techniques including the matching of digitally enhanced surveillance video footage with photographs taken of the faces of every inmate in the prison, as well as identifying marks, such as old injuries and tattoos.

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