Ask any corrections officer: Guarding high-profile criminals is one of the most difficult parts of the job. Not because the most notorious are more dangerous than the rest, but because other inmates know that one way to get famous is to go after the infamous. Serial cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer found that out in a Wisconsin prison twenty years ago, and the con who beat him to death, Christopher Scarver, drew so much attention that he had to be transferred to Colorado.
As we first reported in September, Aurora theater shooter James Holmes was quietly shipped to the Colorado State Penitentiary after his sentencing without even his name surfacing in the Department of Corrections database, to begin serving his sentence of life without parole. But his presence there soon generated buzz among other inmates, in part because he was the only occupant of a sixteen-man pod, presumably for his own protection.
Yet even being isolated in his own unit within the state's highest-security prison wasn't enough to keep Holmes from being a target. On October 8, as he was leaving a case manager's office, Holmes was attacked by an inmate who'd slipped through a sliding door past a group being taken from a class to a day hall — a brief encounter that was announced by the attacker himself in a boastful letter to the Denver Post. But Mark "Slim" Daniels, a 27-year-old doing time for menacing, auto theft and other crimes, is concerned that people still don't understand his motives in assaulting Holmes. In a recent letter to Westword, he claims to have been acting as a kind of ad hoc avenger for the Aurora shootings.
"First and foremost, I would like to express my deepest condolences to all the victims and to the families," he writes. "I'm so sorry I couldn't wipe him out and sent [sic] him packing to Satan's lake of fire. It was just impossible to do by myself with so many cops. I did get him six or seven good ones and this stupid ass case manager [name deleted] ran out of her office and and put her head in front of Holmes' cause I was about to knock him out. That's why she got socked a few times.
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"Once we were on the ground I looked in his eyes and he knew he came close with his demise. He was very scared. I'm so sorry I couldn't finish him for you."
Prison officials have denied that Holmes was in any danger of being dispatched to Satan's lake of fire by Daniels' assault. No criminal charges have been filed to date as a result of the incident — even though his letter claims that Daniels is "getting double digits" for assaulting Holmes and the case manager. However, Daniels did go through a disciplinary hearing and is now in solitary confinement — what the DOC now refers to as "maximum security status" — at the Sterling Correctional Facility. Daniels expects to spend the next year in lockdown, and his letter contains a plea for donations so that he can purchase a television.
"I also am open for pen pals out there," he writes. "There's really not too much do in a 7x12 box for the next year so feel free to write."
Holmes remains at the supermax, where protecting him from other inmates could well prove a management challenge for the duration of his sentence, which amounts to the rest of his life — plus 3,318 years.