Calif. prison riot may have been distraction for gruesome killing
Nicholas Anthony Rodriguez disappeared during a riot in a Northern California prison in May.
Until he was found 15 hours later, officials at the mediumsecurity California State Prison in Solano assumed he had escaped.
The 24-year-old had actually been killed and his body packed into a garbage can in a shower stall not far from his cell, according to the Associated Press.
The AP learned about the killing from an autopsy report obtained through a public records request.
Even more troubling, the autopsy report reveals, was the fact that Rodriguez’s body had been sawed in half, with much of his abdominal and chest organs removed, according to the AP.
More than two months later, investigators still do not know how the elaborate killing was pulled off or what happened to the victim’s organs.
Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, told the San Francisco Chronicle that prison officials are investigating the killing as well as the riot that unfolded several hours beforehand. She told the paper that the two events were linked, but she declined to give details.
Thornton told the AP that Rodriguez’s missing organs are “still part of the investigation.”
According to the AP: “Rodriguez had alcohol in his system and was dead before he was eviscerated, killed by blows to the head that left him with a deep star-shaped wound on his forehead among his multiple skull fractures, cuts and other wounds, according to the May 27 autopsy report conducted by the Solano County Sheriff coroner’s office.”
Investigators are exploring whether the riot was an elaborate ruse created to conceal the killing, according to the AP.
“It’s very difficult to cover every contingency with the limited staff that we have,” said Chuck Alexander, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which represents most prison guards.
“This kind of thing at Solano, sad to say, I predict it’s just a precursor,” he added.
Authorities have yet to charge anyone with killing Rodriguez, but they have a suspect: Rodriguez’s 46-year-old cellmate, Jesus Perez, according to the Chronicle. Perez, who is being held in segregation, is serving a life sentence for a murder in Los Angeles County, the paper reported.
“It just blows my mind, because officers are looking in on inmates all the time,” Christine Ward, executive director of the Crime Victims Action Alliance, told the AP. “Unfortunately, we know that there are drugs, there’s alcohol, there are weapons. As much as the officers can police that, we know we’ve got the toughest, the baddest, the most violent criminals in our state prison and, unfortunately, some of the most cunning prisoners in there, as well. They are going to find ways to do that.”
California has one of the nation’s highest inmate homicide rates, according to the AP, with more than 160 inmates killed in 15 years.