4 more charged in prison beating
By ADAM C. SMITH
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001
GAINESVILLE -- Four more prison officers were charged and a slew of new accusations were added Friday in the beating death of a Florida State Prison inmate.
Among the newly charged officers was Montrez Lucas, acquitted last year of aggravated battery and other charges stemming from a confrontation with death row inmate Frank Valdes.
Lucas was charged Friday with second-degree murder in Valdes' death on July 17, 1999, as was Andrew Lewis, Donald Stanford, and Dewey Beck.
Other officers already facing murder charges -- Charles Brown, Jason Griffis and Timothy Thornton -- had various new charges added, including battery, conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and official misconduct.
Prosecutors dropped second-degree murder charges against Sgt. Robert Sauls, who recently agreed to be interviewed by prosecutors. Sauls still faces charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and battery on an inmate.
The new charges had been expected, and the specifics were revealed in information filed with Circuit Judge Larry Turner.
No warrants had been served as of Friday afternoon, and State Attorney Bill Cervone said it was "entirely inappropriate" for the charges to be publicized. He declined to discuss them.
On the morning of July 17, 1999, Valdes was forcibly removed from his confinement cell.
He was taken to the infirmary and then returned to his cell. Officers say he then seriously injured himself by repeatedly hurling himself onto the floor.
Authorities say his condition -- boot marks on his body, all his ribs broken, his testicles swollen to the size of oranges -- clearly indicated he was beaten to death.
But prosecutors have struggled with a wall of silence from officers, and there have been few signs of cracks in the wall.
Charging Lucas last year for allegedly striking Valdes on July 16 was widely seen as an effort to pressure him into cooperating, but Lucas took the case to trial in Bradford County and was acquitted.
Now Lucas is back in prosecutors' sights for what happened July 17. In addition to murder, he is charged with conspiracy, battery and official misconduct for allegedly falsifying reports.
The murder trial, now likely to be delayed from its scheduled July 16 start, also is to be in Bradford County, where Florida State Prison is the largest employer.
Former State Attorney Rod Smith had been handling the case, but it was handed to assistant state attorney Greg McMahon after Smith was elected to the state Senate last fall.
McMahon is not only casting a wider net for the prosecution, he's also giving jurors some lesser charges to consider in the event that they are disinclined to convict any of the officers of murder.
"I think they're refocusing the direction of prosecution primarily out of a concern over their ability to prove the main charge," said Gil Schaffnit, an attorney representing Thornton.
Thornton, a former Florida State Prison captain, was the highest ranking officer involved in the "cell extraction" of Valdes and faces the most charges: second degree murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, battery on an inmate, tampering with evidence, official misconduct (falsifying reports), and accessory after the fact.
Ted Curtis, an attorney for Charles Brown, said Brown continues to maintain his innocence and will plead not guilty. Attorneys for other officers could not be reached for comment.
- Times Correspondent Matt Boedy contributed to this report.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire