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L.A. County inmate charged with beating cellmate to death

The 21-year-old had been ordered transferred to a facility for the mentally ill, but had not yet been moved. The victim was a transient, 55, being held on suspicion of vandalism.

September 10, 2009|Richard Winton

A Los Angeles County jail inmate was charged with murder Wednesday in the beating death of his cellmate, authorities said.

Matthew Rochelle, 21, allegedly attacked Cedric Walton, 57, on Aug. 31 in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Twin Towers jail, which often houses inmates with mental health or medical issues, prosecutors said.

"It was a beating death. One inmate basically killing his cellmate with blunt-force trauma," said sheriff's homicide Lt. Liam Gallagher.

At the time of the assault, Rochelle was being held on charges of burglary and resisting arrest, authorities said. He was arrested last winter by Los Angeles police in South L.A., court and jail records show.

Rochelle's burglary case had been delayed twice.

According to court records and sheriff's officials, Rochelle was due to be sent to Patton State Hospital, a facility for the mentally ill in San Bernardino County. "It is unclear why he had not been moved," Gallagher said.

The slaying occurred about 11:30 a.m. Aug. 31 in a two-person cell inside an area where inmates are observed for mental health issues, sheriff's officials said. Deputies are required to check the cells on the ward every 15 minutes. Walton's body was found by a staff doctor nine minutes after the cell was checked by a deputy, authorities said.

"All the checks were made on the inmates. Everything was done appropriately in this case," said Steve Whitmore, the sheriff's spokesman.

Since 2000, at least 15 people have been killed in L.A. County jails.

Michael Gennaco, head of the county's Office of Independent Review, said his office and the Sheriff's Department were reviewing the circumstances of Walton's death, including whether the inmates were appropriately housed and classified.

"The victim was much older than his cellmate," Gennaco said. According to officials, Walton was a transient being held on suspicion of vandalism.

Walton's killing came two days after two inmates at the Men's Central Jail killed themselves, authorities said. One man hung himself with a pair of socks and another housed in a medical area hung himself from a shower rod with a piece of clothing, Gennaco said.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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