- Family Features
- Business Directory
- Gallery Of Homes
- Subscribe Now!
- Place A Classified Ad
- New! Digital e-Edition
Former jail guard pleads guilty
May 06, 2005 12:00 am
May 3, 2005
A former Wilson County Jail guard has been sentenced to over three years in prison for a felony civil rights violation arising from an 18-month U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the facility.
Ex-jailer Chris McCathern – who pleaded guilty after being charged last June with violating an inmate's civil rights by participating in an assault on him – was sentenced to 41 months in prison during a short hearing Friday before U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell.
Campbell also ordered McCathern to remain under government supervision for two years after his release from prison.
Federal prosecutors filed charges against McCathern and three former co-workers during the course of a lengthy investigation leading to an indictment against five other ex-jailers, who are accused of conducting a long-running conspiracy of beating prisoners and covering up the crimes.
He is the only one of the four charged prior to the return of the indictment who is not expected to testify as a government witness when the five alleged co-conspirators stand trial later this year.
He will also apparently become the first former jailer to spend time behind bars as a result of the probe with Campbell ordering him to begin serving his sentence May 31.
At the time he was charged, DOJ officials released a statement saying McCathern, a corrections officer at the jail from 2000-2003, "admitted he and other officers assaulted a detainee" identified as Vincent Gooch.
Gooch is identified in the indictment returned against the five indicted co-conspirators as one of 11 prisoners who endured jailhouse beatings over a nearly two-year period.
McCathern, who reportedly worked as a supervisor for much of his time as a jailer, "admitted there was no legitimate law enforcement purpose for striking Gooch," the DOJ statement said.
The three remaining former corrections officers who were charged by prosecutors before the indictment was returned – William Westmoreland, Travis Bradley and John McKinney – are all expected to testify against the five indicted co-conspirators when their trial gets underway Aug. 30, according to court documents on file in a series of civil lawsuits against the jail.
Westmoreland pleaded guilty to assault-related charges while Bradley and McKinney have pleaded guilty to charges of lying to federal agents and falsifying official reports.
The indictment accuses former Sgt. Patrick Marlowe, former Cpl. Gary Hale and ex-jailers Robert Brian Ferrell, Robert Locke and Shane Conatser with unlawfully beating prisoners and concealing the crimes by falsifying reports and denying medical care to their apparent prisoner/victims.
The lengthy investigation was spurred by the January 2003 beating death of inmate Walter S. Kuntz, 43, who is among the 11 victimized prisoners identified in the indictment, which compares his death to a case of second-degree murder.
Hale and Marlowe are held responsible for Kuntz's death in the indictment and briefly faced the possibility of the death penalty, though prosecutors just recently filed notice they will not seek capital punishment for the pair.
The indictment calls Marlowe "an organizer and leader" of the alleged conspiracy and charges the five would "inform and encourage each other by bragging about and re-enacting these assaults, including compiling an oral 'knockout list' of victims who had been rendered unconscious" by the beatings. Marlowe is the only defendant named in all eight counts of the indictment.
If convicted of the count involving Kuntz, Marlowe and Hale face a maximum of life in prison and up to $250,000 in fines each. The remaining seven counts of the indictment charge the five with being involved in at least one assault each on a prisoner, carrying penalties of up to 10 years in prison on each charge.
Attorneys involved in the case have privately predicted the trial for the five indicted co-conspirators will last at least six weeks. All five have remained free since the indictment was returned in July.
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.