Autopsies reveal brutality of NC prison officer slayings

Four newly released autopsies underscore the brutality of North Carolina's deadliest prison escape attempt last October: The victims were savagely and repeatedly assaulted, apparently with scissors and hammers.

The reports confirm much of what authorities have said about the deadly attacks at Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

One victim was stabbed more than 65 times, reports show. Another suffered a "large gaping wound" to the neck. And two were left with fractures to the head and face.

On Friday, the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released the autopsies for prison sewing plant manager Veronica Darden, maintenance worker Geoffrey Howe and correctional officers Justin Smith and Wendy Shannon.

The attacks led to the reassignment of Pasquotank supervisors, the resignation of a

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Sewing plant manager Veronica Darden NC DPS

top state prison official and a damning federal assessment of safety at Pasquotank and another prison.

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Maintenance worker Geoffrey Howe NC DPS

Prosecutors have announced that they will seek the death penalty against the four inmates charged in the attacks: Wisezah Buckman, Mikel Brady, Seth Frazier and Jonathan Monk.

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Prison officer Justin Smith NC DPS

The inmates, who all worked in the prison’s sewing plant, assaulted prison employees on Oct. 12 as part of a failed escape attempt, authorities have said.

Prison officer Wendy Shannon NC DPS

A report by the National Institute of Corrections found that staff shortages and glaring security failures allowed inmates at Pasquotank’s sewing plant to roam freely with easy access to dangerous tools.

Prison staff had allowed inmates to wander through doors that should have been locked and had let them turn a stock room into a hiding place that was concealed from security cameras, according to the federal report. Inmates even checked out their own tools — including hammers and scissors with six-inch blades.

Investigators believe the inmates started a fire in the storage room to divert attention from their scheme.

The prisoners then fought their way down an elevator, past an outside loading dock and over several interior prison fences before officers caught them, according to an inmate disciplinary report.

There was no camera near the elevator where the first attack began, the federal report says.

According to the federal report, an inmate at the sewing plant — not a prison staff member — routinely issued tools to his fellow prisoners. The tools were kept in unlocked cabinets and the inmates were allowed to use them without direct supervision.

State officials have shut down Pasquotank's sewing plant and have taken a number of other steps to improve prison safety. Among other things, prison officials are:

Buying stab-resistant undershirts and personal body alarms for staff members.

Installing new surveillance video cameras.

Using technology to detect and block calls from contraband cellphones - devices that inmates can use to plot and carry out crimes.

Frisking almost everyone who enters prisons.

Buying batons for officers in medium-security prisons.

Creating a new security unit that will develop safety training and ensure regular safety audits at all prisons.

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