Marked for Death

Trapped in a prison race war, Tony Francis had three choices: kill, snitch or run. He found another way out.

Putting whites and blacks in the same cell just isn't done, explained Joseph Leissler, a convicted robber and murderer who knew Francis at Lewisburg. After a wave of racially motivated violence at the prison, Leissler was shipped to USP Atlanta and allegedly "set up" by guards, who assigned him to a cell with a black man. He assaulted his cellmate, he told the jury, and then was beaten by guards.

"They deliberately housed me with an African-American," he said. "I told them, "Don't do it. I am a white man. We don't cell with black people. I don't care what the policy is -- we make policy on this.'

"They wouldn't listen. I told them, "Go get the body bag and the utility tag, because one of us is going to need it.' If you're a white man with any kind of respect for yourself, you just don't do that. You're going to end up being targeted by your own people."

Hadley Hooper
For related stories see Crime and Punishment: Westword reporting on the Criminal Justice System and the Corrections Industry.

Francis understood how things worked at Lewisburg. He spent a lot of time in his cell alone, reading books. When he went to the mess hall, the yard or the weight room, he stayed with the white guys. It didn't mean he was AB, just sensible. Still, some of his associates were known separatists, like Joseph Dougherty, an old-time bank robber and jailhouse lawyer whose acquaintance with federal pens dates back to the 1960s. A Santa Claus look-alike with a flowing white beard, Dougherty considered Francis "a decent young man" and didn't mind sharing a table with him at the mess hall.

"The federal prison system is chaos," testified Dougherty, who described himself as an Odinist. "A white person in prison is in deep trouble if he doesn't have people to stand with him. The guards can't do nothing. All they can do is prosecute the winner."

The importance of race loyalty was driven home at Lewisburg in the fall of 1996. For months there had been an escalating series of racial attacks across the penitentiary system involving the DC Blacks, the Aryan Brotherhood and affiliated groups. The conflict may have started with a fracas the previous winter on the yard at USP Marion in Illinois. Some whites believed the incident was an attempt by DC Blacks to assassinate a leader of the Dirty White Boys; some blacks considered that to be the white spin on a deal the DWB had started and lost. Whatever the truth, tempers were rising. For three days in November they boiled over, leading to two related killings at Lewisburg.

The first victim was a white prisoner who had recently converted to Islam, apparently with the blessing of black Muslim prisoners. This was too great an insult for the white gangs to bear. The convert was stabbed twenty times; two other white inmates were suspected of being his murderers.

Three days later, another white inmate, a young man known as "Tennessee," was slain in another unit. This time the suspected killers were black, supposedly paying in kind for the earlier slaying. By all accounts, the victim had nothing to do with the earlier murder and may not have even been in a gang.

Lewisburg was locked down for months after the murders. Every time inmates were allowed out of their cells again, there were more retaliatory stabbings. Francis began to worry about his AB rep. If the gangs were willing to kill this white dude from Tennessee just because he was a convenient target, what about him?

At one point, Joseph Dougherty recalled, he met with the heads of the Moors, the Sikhs and the Nation of Islam groups at Lewisburg to find out what their intentions were concerning Tony Francis.

"They said there was a jihad and that Tony would be hit whenever they could get to him," Dougherty told the Francis jury. "It was out of their hands."

But under cross-examination, Dougherty faltered in his recollections of the timing of that conversation. In any case, it doesn't appear that Francis ever knew about such a meeting or gave it a second thought. In the spring of 1997 he was transferred from Lewisburg to Florence, which removed him from one kind of impossible situation and placed him in another.

Q: Isn't it true that if an inmate tells staff he's been assaulted, he's in danger of being labeled a snitch?

A: I have no knowledge of that.

Q: Does the number of inmate assaults [at USP Florence] cause you any concern?

A: Not particularly.-- Examination of Thomas Werlich, social science research analyst, BOP

A few weeks before Tony Francis was moved there, Florence had been rocked by two inmate murders, one right after the other, just like Lewisburg. But the Florence killings had nothing to do with race. They were about snitching.

On January 16, 1997, Maynard Campbell, a 55-year-old inmate with ties to militia groups, was stabbed to death. Campbell was a white separatist serving a ten-year sentence stemming from a land dispute with federal officials in Oregon, but his death wasn't a result of his political views. He had refused to leave the cell when two inmates dropped by to accuse his roommate, Greg Kuban, of being an informant.

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