by Julian Heicklen

Edward Singletary, a 38-year-old Black male, was an inmate at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Rockview. He died by strangulation while in isolation on October 6, 1996. The prison claims that his death was a suicide. The inmates insist that the death was a homicide. There is ample reason to believe that the inmates are correct. At a minimum there appears to have been gross negligence on the part of the guards.

Mr. Singletary was committed to the Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU), commonly called solitary confinement, in November 1995. He was moved on Friday morning, October 4, 1996, to the "pink cell." The "pink cell" is colored pink and is used for punishment of prisoners in solitary confinement. The "pink cell" is completely isolated from all other cells. It is illuminated 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. An inmate in the "pink cell" is supposed to be under continual observation at all times. According to two sources, the front of the cell always is visible to the guards in the guard station. According to two other sources, the front of the cell is not visible to the guards in the guard station. The guards are supposed to check the inmate every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. According to the inmates, the check is made only once an hour.

The death was reported to the state police, but neither the state police nor the Prison reported the death to the district attorney. I informed District Attorney Ray Gricar of the death on November 21, 1996, and requested an investigation, which he so ordered on December 4, 1996. As of June 1, 1997, I have received no report of that investigation and there have been no indictments.

I spoke with State Trooper Terry Miller, who was assigned to the investigation, on December 19, 1996. He told me that usually at the "pink cell" there are 1 or 2 correctional officers at the desk and 2 lieutenants. One lieutenant viewed Singletary at 12:50 AM on October 6, 1996, and reported that he was alive and well. Another lieutenant, named Hoy, found him strangled at 1:10 AM. Miller was at the autopsy. According to Miller, there was no trauma evident on the body.

According to Miller, Mr. Singletary was seen daily by the medical staff in the weeks before his death. In September, he was seen by a psychiatrist. He had "delusions" that the guards were trying to kill him. He would not eat the food or take his pills. He claimed that his mail was being tampered with. He claimed that the guards were trying to inject him with TB. Medication had been prescribed, including sleeping pills, but he would not take it.

Prior to contacting the district attorney, I had spoken to several inmates regarding the death of Mr. Singletary. All the inmates that I spoke with that knew Singletary said that he never indicated suicidal tendencies. If he wished to commit suicide, it would have been much easier to do so in RHU, but he never attempted it. They also pointed out that inmates with "short time" (only a few months left before the maximum sentence is reached) do not kill themselves.

Also prior to my contact with the district attorney, Sandra Washington, the sister of Edward Singletary, called me. Ms. Washington said that Edward had no suicidal tendencies. She had received a letter from him on October 3, 1996. The letter was positive. He seemed happy. He had no depression. She had visited with him at the prison in September 1996.

According to Ms. Washington, Edward was in RHU for 10 months. Sam Mazzotta, Corrections Superintendent Assistant, told her that he was moved from RHU to the "pink cell" on Friday, October 4, 1996. Friday and Saturday were calm days. There was no unusual activity. This story is highly unlikely, since the "pink cell" is a disciplinary cell. Shaikh Muhammad, an inmate that spent 4 days in the "pink cell" in April 1997, reports that those 4 days were the worst days of his life. He was transferred from the "pink cell" to the infirmary for 4 more days because he was urinating blood.

After I contacted the district attorney I received a letter from inmate Steven Thompson dated January 13, 1997, describing the Singletary situation. I interviewed Mr. Thompson on January 15, 1997. I learned that Mr. Singletary was taken from RHU on October 4, 1996, between 9:00 and 9:30 AM to see Major of the Guards Harvey Yancey. Singletary thought that Yancey was going to resolve the magazine dispute between him and Poust. However Singletary never returned. He had no idea that he was going to the "pink cell." Usually when an inmate is moved to the "pink cell," his possessions are inventoried and kept in the cell that he left in RHU. However in Singletary's case, his possessions were removed from his RHU cell on October 4, 1996, i. e. before he died. Presumably the guards knew that Singletary was not going to return, even before his death.

According to Thompson, when an inmate goes to the "pink cell," he is issued a paper gown to wear and given paper sheets. He has to earn the right to have cloth sheets and a jump suit. This could happen in one day, so that Singletary may have been issued the sheet on October 5, 1996, that supposedly was responsible for his death on October 6, 1996. Thompson does not know of anyone that has been beaten while in the pink cell.

A long running dispute had been in progress between Singletary and Correctional Officer Poust about Singletary's magazine collection. Apparently there is a rule (not enforced) that an inmate cannot have more than 10 magazines in his cell. If he does, the overflow must be sent outside the prison or destroyed. However, an inmate cannot send material out of the prison from RHU. Thus Poust threatened to destroy Singletary's excess magazines. According to Thompson, Poust kept taunting Singletary about this, and Singletary was abusive to Poust in return. During his last week in RHU, Singletary threatened to kill Poust's family when he was released from prison. Poust considered this threat serious enough to write a misconduct against Singletary.

According to Thompson, Singletary was taking 100 mg of Sinequan each night at 8:00 PM. Thompson takes 250 mg of Sinequan every night at 8:00 PM. This knocks him out in about 2 hours (faster on an empty stomach). Unless he has to urinate, this keeps him asleep until the next morning. With Sinequan in his system, a person would not be able to struggle with anyone that was trying to strangle him. He probably would awaken and try to release the noose around his neck.

I told Thompson that the coroner's version of the "suicide" (see below). Thompson has tried to commit suicide by hanging himself. He claims that the coroner's story is ridiculous. According to Thompson, it would be impossible to kill yourself in this manner. Thompson says that all of the inmates that were in RHU on October 4, 1996, believe that Singletary's death was homicide. Also one of the guards, whose name I did not get, has stated that he believes the death was homicide.

On January 5, 1997, I spoke with Dr. Tom Baumgarten, Medical Director at Rockview. The infirmary has cells to observe inmates under medical supervision. No inmate would ever be sent to the "pink cell" for medical observation. The "pink cell" is used only for disciplinary or security reasons. There is no medical staff there. According to Dr. Baumgarten, Mr. Singletary was not suicidal in any way. In fact, at the time of the death, he and the psychiatrist that was treating Mr. Singletary discussed the case and were surprised that Mr. Singletary "committed suicide."

I spoke with Deputy Coroner Kevin smith on October 21, 1996. The information that I obtained from him is that the guards claimed to observe Mr. Singletary at 12:50 AM on October 6, 1996, and he was allright. At 1:10 AM he was observed again and was strangled. He was sitting on the floor. According to the guards, he had tied a sheet around his neck and to the top bars on the entrance wall and leaned forward. This made him lose consciousness. Then the weight of his forward-leaning body asphyxiated him. This only takes a couple of minutes according to Smith. His neck was not broken. There were no wounds on the body nor evidence of a struggle. The guards tried to revive him. The infirmary was called, and those dispatched to the scene tried to revive him. Then the ambulance was called and he was taken to Centre Community Hospital. He was pronounced dead at 2:00 AM at the hospital.

On January 6, 1997, I again talked with Deputy Coroner Kevin Smith. He had received the toxicology report and it showed nothing in the blood samples. He believes that the death is a suicide because there was no evidence of a struggle. Several blood samples were taken. They were all clean. They were sent to a private government laboratory for analysis. There is a way of telling how many punctures are made in the sample tube. There was only one puncture in each tube, made by Kevin Smith when he drew blood. He is confident that there was no tampering with the samples.

There are some questionable aspects to the blood analysis: 1) the samples were not frozen at very low temperatures (the best way to preserve them), but instead a preservative was added, 2) the samples were not tested until 2 months after the death, 3) Mr. Singletary was supposed to have received Sinequan 5 hours before his death, but evidence of Sinequan was not reported. Prison officials claim that Mr. Singletary refused to take the Sinequan when he was in the "pink cell."

I received a letter dated December 31, 1996, from Kerry Benninghoff, who was Centre County Coroner at the time of Mr. Singletary's death. I quote from his letter:

"Mr. Singletary's death was ruled a suicidal hanging. I think it is important to understand that a ligature and any other marks associated with it or a suicidal-type hanging vs. a homicidal hanging or strangulation have significant differences from each other. This office has always been very careful in examining these types of things."

Mr. Singletary's death under unusual circumstances is not an isolated incident. Dr. Baumgarten has told me that a similar "suicide" occurred about one year ago by a non- suicidal inmate. State Trooper Terry Miller, who is investigating the Singletary case, has told me that he knows of 3 or 4 such deaths over the last few years. One inmate has told me that there have been 8 such deaths at SCI Rockview over the last 10 years. Another inmate says that from 1990 to 1996, three people were murdered in the "pink cell," and their deaths were covered up. The inmates were found hung. The prison claims that they were suicides. Nor are these peculiar deaths restricted to SCI Rockview. I have been told of 4 other such deaths at other prisons in the state.

Since the Singletary death, 7 inmates have written to me that they are afraid that they will be killed. One inmate claims that the guards are threatening to kill him and make it look like a suicide, as they did in the Singletary death. He will not eat, because he is afraid that he will be poisoned. He believes that he will not leave Rockview alive. Another inmate claims that the staff and guards are threatening his life. Two inmates claim that the guards are informing other inmates that they are snitches, so that they are afraid that they will be killed by other inmates. One of these has purposely committed himself to solitary confinement, because it is the only place that he feels safe.