Sixth Murder at Sterling Triggers Investigation of Troubled Prison

The recent murder of an inmate at the Sterling Correctional Facility -- the sixth homicide at the state's largest prison since 2010 -- has prompted Colorado Department of Corrections executive director Rick Raemisch to promise an "intensive" investigation into the circumstances of the death. The killing comes in the wake of claims that prison staff at Sterling have repeatedly placed at-risk prisoners, particularly sex offenders, in life-threatening situations.

"This is our house," Raemisch said in an interview with Westword yesterday morning. "These people are our responsibility."

See also: Sterling Prison Murders Blamed on Staff Indifference, Misconduct

A DOC spokeswoman confirmed late Monday that the death of Cody Gray, 32, who was serving a life sentence for sexual assault, "appears to be a homicide." It's the first such death in the system since Raemisch took over as chief last year but seems to fit a larger pattern at Sterling, which houses close to 2,500 inmates, from short-term, minimum-security offenders to high-security prisoners serving long sentences.

As we reported just a few weeks ago, several inmates and their families have alleged that guards at Sterling have ignored threats made against certain prisoners and have even celled deadly enemies together in order to punish them or "teach them a lesson," fully expecting violence to erupt. Three of the inmates killed there during a two-and-a-half-year period were serving time for crimes against children, and one had been attacked before by the same inmate who killed him, after the assailant protested to staff about being celled with a child molester.

Early reports indicate Gray's death may be gang-related. In 2008, Gray was jailed on drug charges in Mesa County when another inmate accused him of rape. Two years later, Gray was convicted of three sexual assault counts and sentenced to 48 years to life.

Raemisch says he told his executive staff he wants a full review of how prisoners are classified and known risks evaluated at Sterling: "We have to figure out what we can do better to protect people from harm, if possible."

Raemisch's predecessor, Tom Clements, also ordered an internal review of operations at Sterling back in 2011, but the results of that investigation have not been released.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast