Two federal prison inmates stomped on a fellow inmate’s head and neck repeatedly until he died in what prosecutors are calling a racially-motivated murder.
And on Monday, a federal judge sentenced the pair. Donald R. LaFond, Jr., was sentenced to life in prison, and Jason Robert Widdison to 31 years and eight months, for killing their fellow inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.
On Feb. 3, a jury found LaFond, Jr., 53, of New Bedford, Mass. and Widdison, 35, of Morgan, Utah, guilty of second-degree murder, prosecutors said.
“These defendants, members of a white supremacist prison gang, brutally murdered another inmate for not objecting to having an African-American cellmate,” United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said. “Whether racially-motivated violence occurs on our streets or in our prisons, we will hold the perpetrators accountable.”
Prosecutors said on March 1, 2011, Mr. LaFond and Mr. Widdison, both members of white supremacist prison gangs, were exercising inside the special housing unit recreation area of the prison when the victim joined them.
The victim, a white inmate who was not a gang member, attempted to make conversation and walk around with them, according to court reports. It’s unclear what he said.
“After a short period of time, LaFond and Widdison suddenly began to punch the victim from both front and behind, knocking the victim to the ground,” according to court records. “Both LaFond and Widdison then stomped on the victim’s head and neck, as many as ten times each.”
A correction officer intervened and both men complied with the officers’ orders to stop beating the victim, prosecutors said. But by then, the victim was unconscious. He was taken to a hospital but never regained consciousness, eventually dying on April 5, 2011.
It was revealed in trial that in the weeks leading up to the assault, Mr. LaFond and Mr. Widdison expressed anger towards the victim because he refused to protest the fact that he had a black cellmate, federal prosecutors said.
They said the defendants pressured the victim to take any steps necessary to be re-assigned to another cell. Additional evidence showed that the victim refused to comply with the defendants’ demands and that the defendants regarded this refusal as a violation of their gang code, prosecutors said.
“Law and order within a correctional facility setting is paramount in protecting the safety and lives of not only those inmates living within the walls of the facility but also for those working there,” J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated. “The FBI will continue to provide investigative assistance to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in ensuring that these inmates with gang or supremacy affiliations are held accountable for their violent actions.”