Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2014

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Public Safety:

Inmate who died at hospital is fourth prisoner death since November

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John Jennings

A prison inmate died today while being treated at Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas.

John Jennings, 59, was at the High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs before he was admitted to the hospital to be treated for a medical condition. The Clark County Coroner’s Office will conduct an autopsy; foul play is not suspected.

Prison officials said Jennings was serving time for sexual assault and lewdness with a child under age 14, for which he was convicted in Washoe County. He was sentenced to life behind bars with the possibility of parole. Jennings had been released twice before on the same conviction, most recently in 1999. He was imprisoned again in 2013 for a parole violation.

Jennings is the fourth Nevada prison inmate to die since early November.

Ward Bolinger, 64, was found dead Nov. 22 inside his cell at High Desert, where he was serving up to 20 years for attempting to sexually assault a victim under 14 and for attempted lewdness with a minor. He had been behind bars for the crimes since March 2012. The Clark County Coroner's Office performed an autopsy, but officials there said results are not available because a toxicology report is pending.

One day before, Robert Luttrell, 62, was found dead in his cell at Ely State Prison. Luttrell had been in prison since September 2006, serving a sentence of up to 30 years for robbery with a deadly weapons enhancement. His case originated in Washoe County. An autopsy conducted by the Clark County's Coroner's Office determined he died of heart and lung diseases.

On Nov. 8, Truman Walker, 67, was discovered in his cell at High Desert State Prison after he hanged himself, according to the Clark County Coroner’s Office. Walker, 67, had been at High Desert since August 2000. He was serving a sentence for open and gross lewdness.

Four inmates died in October at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City.

They are Richard Ferst, 52, who died Oct. 5 while he was serving a sentence for burglary, grand larceny and possession of stolen items; convicted cop killer Larry Peck, 62, who died Oct. 4; Joseph Oxford-McArthur, 31, who was serving a one- to three-year sentence for domestic battery and was found unconscious inside his cell Oct. 21 before dying four days later at an area hospital; and an unidentified inmate who died at a medical facility inside the prison Oct. 21 (his name is not yet public because prison officials have not notified relatives). Officials have ruled out foul play in all of the deaths except for Oxford-McArthur’s.

Nevada Department of Corrections officials have declined to discuss the circumstances of any of the October deaths or to say whether autopsies were requested. At least one inmate’s family says an autopsy was never requested, even though a new state law makes postmortem examinations mandatory for all inmates who die under the agency’s care.

So far this year, 32 Nevada state prisoners have died. The state’s prison system had the 14th-highest mortality rate in the nation in 2007 at 299 per 100,000 inmates, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. By comparison, Mississippi had the highest rate at 448 per 100,000 inmates.

Nevada had 12,778 state and federal inmates in late 2011.

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