W.Va. Inmate Dies From Stabbing Wound; Power Struggle Suspected
MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) _ A struggle for dominance among West Virginia Penitentiary inmates may have been responsible for the attack that killed one of the most powerful inmate leaders, the state prisons chief said Friday.
Danny Lehman, head of the prison branch of the Avengers motorcycle gang, was pronounced dead Friday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Valley Medical Center said.
Lehman, 33, and two other prisoners were attacked Wednesday night by five inmates wielding homemade knives, Corrections Commissioner A.V. Dodrill said. One inmate died shortly after the Wednesday night attack and the third remains hospitalized in good condition.
″The fact that Lehman was considered the leader of one of the prison’s gangs probably had something to do with″ the attack, Dodrill said. ″I feel it’s entirely possible that there’s a power struggle going on. That’s the assumption I’m making at this time but we won’t know for sure until after the investigation is complete.″
Dodrill said it also was possible a security failure could have been involved. The attack occurred in the prison’s maximum security unit.
″It is difficult for them to carry out an attack like this,″ Dodrill said. ″We want to find out if there was a break in security so we can take appropriate measures.″
Dodrill said prison officials were aware that Lehman’s power had been eroding in recent weeks as other inmates vied for leadership positions. Prison officials also had been monitoring what appeared to be growing rivalry between penitentiary gangs, particularly between the Avengers and the Aryan Brotherhood, he said.
The latest attack brings to seven the number of inmates who have been stabbed at the prison since a two-day riot that started last New Year’s Day. Another ranking member of the Avengers was set on fire inside his cell in September and suffered first-degree burns. Officials say all those incidents may have been part of the power play.
″Unfortunately, the formation of gangs is impossible to stop,″ the commissioner said. ″When emotions build they spill out and it’s very difficult to control because of the space we have.″
The section where the attack occurred was under lockdown and prison guards were conducting another ″shakedown″ Friday afternoon while the rest of the prison continued calm, officials said.