Anatomy of a Prison Murder

Guards Watch as a Prisoner Kills His Cellmate

The two men squared off, and their voices carried down the corridor.

"Set it off!"

"Whatcha going to do? Huh?"

"C'mon, c'mon!"

There were no cameras inside the cell, but microphones recorded the men's shouts, and three cameras in the hallway show the occasional body flashing by the cell window. The men's voices are sometimes clear, sometimes muffled. It is difficult to determine who is yelling what, and in the beginning, there were no witnesses, so the only version of this fight is Brunson's.

"He was grabbing me by my hair . . . pulling my hair out and swinging me around," Brunson says. "He was able to push me into the shower, and I fell on my back, and he was able to get on top of me. . . . He was hitting me and kicking me. He was suffocating me. . . . I felt this guy is going to either render me unconscious or he is going to kill me. There was no one to help me. I was able to grab him and kinda pull him all the way in with me and then turn over and . . . get out of the shower."

Loud banging, the sound of a toilet flushing, and more shouting filled the prison's hallway.

"Say uncle!"

"You pulled my hair, right?"

"Call the po-leece, motherfucker!"

Brunson claims he did not want to fight Quintana, and so he tried to get the men in the cell next door to call the police, the prisoners' term for the guards. But the battle continued. "When he got out of the shower, he started fighting again and he grabbed my hair, and I'm telling him, 'That's enough, that's it,' " Brunson says. "He wouldn't stop, and after a while, I felt like my life was in danger. And I just lost it. My mind just snapped. You're fighting for your life. . . . And I know I'm fighting with a murderer that killed before. . . . So I just started going crazy. I went wild."

At 3:13 a.m., more than 20 minutes after the argument began, Timothy Stampfler, a correction officer, headed down the hallway toward cell B-29. By now, the commotion had awakened other prisoners on the floor. They looked out their windows and yelled to the guard, "Down there!"

Through the window of cell B-29, Stampfler saw Quintana curled up on the lower bunk. Holding onto the top bunk, Brunson was kicking his cellmate in the head with his right foot. Quintana tried to block Brunson's blows by shielding his face with his hand. By now, there was plenty of evidence to show how vicious this 26-minute fight had already become. Quintana's face was bruised and bloody. Several of Brunson's dreadlocks, which his cellmate had yanked out earlier, lay on the floor and in the toilet. Blood streaked the walls, sheets, and cell window.

"Hey, what are you doing?" Stampfler shouted through the window. "Get the fuck away from him!"

Brunson looked up at guard, and the two began arguing. "You need assistance!" Brunson yelled to the guard.

"That's right," the guard responded, "but leave him alone!"

"Call for assistance, man, before I kill him!" Brunson shouted.

Stampfler told the guard in the control booth, who is known as the "console officer," to notify the sergeant. Prison policy required that a supervisor be present before guards can enter a cell where two inmates are brawling. Meanwhile, inside cell B-29, Brunson continued to punch Quintana in the face and smash his head against the wall.

"Didn't I tell you to shut up?" Brunson shouted. "Answer me, bitchass motherfucker!"

By now, the console officer had opened the cell's back door.

"I need you in the rec pen," Stampfler shouted through the window.

"He needs a fucking nurse," Brunson responded.

"That's right, and we need you in the rec pen."

Instead of following orders—instead of going to the back of the cell and being locked into the caged balcony—Brunson kept kicking and punching his bunky. Over and over, Quintana's head smacked against the cell wall, making an ominous thumping noise.

Later, in a telephone interview, Brunson explained he did not obey orders because he was afraid that, if he got up, Quintana would attack him and he would have to defend himself again. "I know the officers are not going to come into the cell to break it up," Brunson said. "It's like a known thing in the jail that officers don't come in there until it's over."

At 3:17 a.m., four minutes after Stampfler arrived, another officer showed up. The guards continued to shout through the Plexiglas window.

"I need you in the rec pen."

"Fuck you, man!" Brunson responded.

One minute later, a third guard walked down the hall and peered inside cell B-29. The three officers took turns watching the fight through the window. Inside, Brunson continued to kick and punch his cellmate.

"I want to talk to someone in charge!" Brunson shouted.

"We need the sergeant pretty soon," one of the guards said. "Otherwise he's going to kill this guy."

Only two sergeants work the midnight shift, so the wait for a supervisor continued. At 3:18 a.m., one officer walked away. Another guard followed. One minute later, the third officer strolled away from the window. Meanwhile, the fight went on, and the eerie sound of Quintana's head smacking against the cell wall continued to echo down the hall.

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