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Guards Go on Trial in Inmate Death

January 17, 2002

STARKE, Fla. (AP) _ Death row inmate Frank Valdes was beaten to death while being forcibly removed from his cell at Florida State Prison, a prosecutor said Wednesday in opening statements for the trial of four former guards charged in the 1999 slaying.

If convicted of second-degree murder, the four could face life in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Greg McMahon said Valdes, 36, on death row for killing a corrections officer in 1987, suffered a broken nose, broken jaw, broken collar bone, broken shoulder blade, broken sternum, 22 broken ribs and four broken vertebrae.

``His chest was so injured he could not take a breath,″ the prosecutor said.

The prosecution alleges that the four former guards, along with four others who will stand trial later, were upset that Valdes was planning to go to the media to try to stop beatings and mistreatment of other inmates.

All four _ Capt. Timothy Thornton, 36, Sgt. Jason Griffis, 28, Sgt. Charles Brown, 28, and Sgt. Andrew Lewis, 31 _ have been fired.

Thornton’s lawyer, Gloria Fletcher, told jurors that Valdes injured himself by throwing himself repeatedly onto the concrete floor of his cell.

Thornton is innocent, she said. ``Thornton wants the opportunity to come from under the cloud he has been under for 30 months,″ she said.

Brown’s lawyer, Ted Curtis, claimed Valdes suffered only minor injuries when he was forcibly removed from his cell.

Defense attorneys also indicated that other guards who will be tried later might have been responsible for Valdes’ injuries. Those guards oversaw the block where the inmate was being held.

``My client never touched, struck or kicked or had any contact,″ said Andrew Vloedman, who represents Lewis.

The opening statements had been scheduled to begin Monday, but were delayed by arguments over potentially damning testimony from inmates who claim they also were beaten by the guards.

More than 70 witnesses are expected to testify over the next six weeks.

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