SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Eight inmates on California’s death row at San Quentin State Prison have now died of apparent complications from the coronavirus, officials said Wednesday, amid the largest prison outbreak of the virus in the state.
Officials said condemned inmate John M. Beames, 67, died Tuesday at an outside hospital. His exact cause of death will be determined by a coroner.READ MORE: Yastrzemski's Bat, Glove Help Giants Hold Off Tigers 4-3
He was sentenced to death in Tulare County in 1995 for murder, torture and other crimes involving a 15-month-old child.
According to a 2007 state Supreme Court decision upholding his conviction and sentence, Beames lived with a woman and her two children, including victim Cassie McMains.
She bled to death in 1994 after investigators said her liver was hit so hard that it was split nearly in half. Medical experts at his trial said she had suffered numerous injuries for weeks before her death, including burns, broken bones, black eyes and ligature marks.
Defense attorneys said the child had a brittle bone disease, that her burns and her fatal liver injury were accidental, and that Beames fed and clothed her.
There have now been 14 total virus-related deaths at the prison north of San Francisco, where there are 717 condemned inmates on death row.
San Quentin currently has 860 active virus cases — more than triple the number at any other prison. Nearly 1,200 inmates have recovered.READ MORE: Garbage Truck Driver Discovers Body When Depositing Trash At Yolo County Dump
California Institution for Men in Southern California has the most inmate deaths, with 19. There have been eight other inmate deaths scattered among four additional prisons.
System-wide there are more than 1,900 active virus cases, and nearly 5,000 inmates have recovered. At least 870 employees are currently infected, and three have died.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
In anticipation of further outbreaks, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar on Wednesday ordered prison officials to vacate or reserve at least 100 beds in each of the state’s 35 prisons for isolating and quarantining inmates. That can include using tents, gymnasiums or other other converted spaces, as have been used at San Quentin.
Tigar stopped short of following the recommendation of a federal official who said each prison should empty 20% of its population.
But once the initial space is cleared, Tigar said officials should decide if more space is needed based on health considerations, without regard to whether inmates would have to be released. If officials can’t meet that requirement, attorneys representing inmates say it should prompt Tigar to impanel a special three-judge court that could order more releases.MORE NEWS: Animal Shelters See Rise of Returned Pets, Citing Affordability Concerns
Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered early releases that officials expect to lower the population by about 10%, or more than 10,000 inmates. The state is keeping an additional 7,000 convicts in local jails instead of transferring them to state prisons.