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HARD TIME

EVEN COLORADO'S TOUGHEST CONS ARE AFRAID TO BUNK WITH MARVIN GRAY.

part 1 of 2
James Mervin, Colorado prison inmate No. 56225, was moving again. Over the years, he'd learned to pack quickly, tossing his meager belongings into a box so as not to upset the guard waiting to escort him to his new home. He didn't think much about it. Shuffling from one cell to another is simply another annoying fact of life in prison.

A tough guy despite his relatively short stature, a weightlifter, hardened con and a lifer, Mervin figured he could take care of himself no matter who his cellmate was. He thought so right up until he began unpacking at his new cell in the state prison at Limon. That's when another inmate slyly asked if he knew that he'd be bunking with Marvin Gray.

Suddenly Mervin wasn't so cocky. He'd be living with the weightlifting champion of the state prison system, a hulking, 280-pound bully who could squat 830 pounds, dead-lift more than 650 and bench press 500. Gray had a rumored predilection for assault--and for young, blonde, blue-eyed guys just like Mervin. And all the inmates at Limon knew that Gray was awaiting trial for allegedly killing another cellmate with his bare hands.

Mervin had never been willing to take on Gray. The two of them had had a run-in back in the state's Shadow Mountain prison years before, and Mervin had been trying to stay away from him ever since. But for all his knowledge of Gray, he didn't know what prison officials knew: that just days earlier, Gray's previous cellmate had been brutally raped. What Mervin didn't know would end up hurting him.

Within days, Mervin, too, became Gray's victim. And in what may be a landmark lawsuit in Colorado, he says he was also victimized by a state prison system that remains callously indifferent to the grim reality of inmate rape. Mervin's suit has already cleared legal hurdles that keep most inmate actions from moving through the justice system. It now seems likely to be the first prisoner lawsuit to go to trial in this state in more than a decade.

If the case does get to trial, state officials will be forced to take the stand and explain why prison guards put Mervin in a cell with a man Mervin's lawyer calls a "raping, killing machine"--and why, after he dared to sue, Mervin became the target of what appears to be a prison whitewash.

Marvin Gray can be soft-spoken and articulate. He takes care of his appearance, keeping his beard trimmed and blow-drying his hair. But his attention to grooming is overshadowed by his imposing figure. At 6-foot-1, he now tips the scales at nearly 300 pounds. And his size is only part of the picture. His arms, stomach and chest are covered with inky blue tattoos--a partial list includes the words "Mom," "Dad," "Stud," "Marv" and "Gayle" (his middle name). He's also decorated with a skull, a buzzard, a rose, a swastika, an iron cross, several lightning bolts, the grim reaper, a Viking man and woman, a biker dude with a gun and a pair of crossed axes.

"I haven't done anything [inside prison]," Gray says during an interview at the state's maximum-security prison in Canon City. "My record speaks for itself."

And Gray's rap sheet speaks volumes. It dates back to 1970, when he was sixteen. He started small--possession of less than $100 worth of stolen property--but quickly made his way into the big time with arrests for aggravated robbery, weapons possession, assault and murder.

Gray's reputation grew with each arrest. It skyrocketed after he escaped from a Kentucky jail with two other men. One of the men told police Gray had cut him with a knife after the jailbreak and that he feared Gray had killed the third escapee, who was never found.

Later, while out on parole, Gray was accused of breaking into a hotel room and sodomizing a young boy. Charges were never brought in that case.

In September 1975, Gray was in Denver with a buddy named William Felder. The duo went on a short-lived crime spree, robbing and assaulting two men near East Tenth Avenue and Grant Street in Denver. Their second victim was a police chief from South San Francisco who was shot in the leg as he walked back to his hotel from the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention.

Alerted by the sound of gunfire, police raced to the scene and arrested Gray and Felder. Two days later officers found a dead body in a vehicle parked near 13th and Larimer streets. The man had been dead several days. Police discovered he'd been killed with the same gun Felder and Gray had used in the robberies. Gray was held for investigation of homicide in the case but was never charged in the murder. He did go to prison for aggravated robbery.

Gray was in and out of the state prison system until 1985, when he was found guilty of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a 21-year-old woman on the banks of Cherry Creek. He stabbed her fourteen times and was given sixteen years.

Two years later Gray was charged with his first institutional rape. According to Department of Corrections documents, the victim "did go to Gray's cell under his own power" but "felt compelled" to do so because of Gray's size, his history of physical violence and the potential for retaliation if he didn't comply with Gray's sexual demands.

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