Anatomy of a Prison Murder

Guards Watch as a Prisoner Kills His Cellmate

"Say uncle, motherfucker!" Brunson shouted. "Sorryass piece of shit!"

Later, Stampfler would explain his version of events at a disciplinary hearing held for Brunson. Quintana "was putting up no fight whatsoever," Stampfler said. "When I ran back a little ways from the window, I partially did that because I felt Brunson was using me as a spectator and was beating him even harder because I was there."

At 3:20 a.m., one officer returned, walking down the hall with his hands shoved in his pockets. He stopped at cell B-29 and peered inside. Another guard soon joined him.

"The fucking reject is pounding on him," one officer said to the other.

The third guard came back, too, and the men discussed what to do. Their words are difficult to decipher, but the men appear agitated. "I know," one guard said to another, "but we can't go fucking in there."

At 3:21 a.m., a fourth guard showed up. Even if they had wanted to, the officers could not have opened the cell. They do not carry keys. Only the console officer in the the central control booth is able to unlock the door.

At 3:22 a.m., Brunson finally obeyed their orders and stopped beating his bunky. Blood covered Brunson's arms and hands, but his injuries were relatively minor: several missing dreadlocks and a cut on his right pinky. Brunson headed to the back of the cell and stepped into the rec pen. From there, he continued hollering, and his voice carried through two doors.

"He needs some help!" Brunson shouted. "He needs some help!"

Nine minutes had passed since Stampfler first arrived at the cell door, and still it remained shut. At his disciplinary hearing, Brunson got a chance to quiz Stampfler about the guards' policy on entering cells where two inmates are fighting.

"That's been a little up in the air," Stampfler said. "But from what we were told when I first got there, we had to have a supervisor on duty. . . . Unless the console officer. . . agrees with me and says, 'Yes, open the cell door,' I still can't get it open. If we had had maybe a few more officers there, it could've been a judgment call. Maybe we could've went in. But since there were no officers there at the time, all we could do is stand there and just watch."

At 3:24 a.m., Sergeant Gerald Blow arrived with three guards. As he walked up, the officers stepped away from the cell window so their boss could look inside. The sergeant saw Quintana's bruised and bloody body lying on the bottom bunk.

Blow spun around. "Who actually observed the fight?" he asked his underlings.

"He needs some help," Brunson hollered from the rec pen. "You better hurry up and get him!"

"Keep quiet!" Blow shouted.

An officer yelled to Quintana. "Put your hands through the hatch!" At Upstate, guards do not let prisoners leave their cells until they shove their hands through the slot in the door so they can be cuffed.

"He needs assistance, yo!" Brunson yelled.

"Put your hands through the hatch, and you'll get assistance!" a guard shouted to Quintana.

By now, Quintana was sitting on his bed, dazed and unresponsive.

"Quintana, Quintana, you've got to come to the door, man!" the sergeant shouted.

"He can't get up!" Brunson hollered. "He needs help!"

At 3:29 a.m., five minutes after the sergeant arrived, the cell door was still shut and the officers were still waiting for Quintana to put his hands through the slot in the door.

"What are y'all waiting for, man?" Brunson yelled. "He can't get up! He can't get up! He fell and hit his head! He can't get up!"

A nurse arrived, and two minutes later another nurse showed up with an officer carrying a stretcher. Five guards slipped on what looked like hospital scrubs over their uniforms, and they pulled on latex gloves. Their actions appeared to carry little sense of urgency. While they helped each other tie the backs of their protective gowns, someone made a comment that cannot be heard clearly on the videotape. Whatever his words were, they got the guards laughing.

At 3:33 a.m., 20 minutes after a guard first witnessed Brunson beating his bunky, the door to cell B-29 finally opened. Five men entered the cell, then exited carrying Quintana on a stretcher. By now, his eyes were swollen shut and blood covered his face, arms, neck, and chest.

Quintana left the prison in the back of an ambulance around 4 a.m. Thirty-five hours later, a doctor pronounced him dead. His death certificate states that he died of cerebral contusions caused by blunt force trauma.

The murder inside cell B-29 received little public attention. At the time, there were a few stories in local papers, and two articles appeared recently in The Amsterdam News. Inside the prison, Quintana's killing was logged as "Unusual Incident #000058." It sparked a flurry of paperwork: an unusual incident report, a misbehavior report, guards' memos about what they witnessed. None of the officers faced disciplinary charges.

Brunson was arraigned on a charge of first-degree manslaughter. His mother, a supervisor for the postal service, hired Harlem lawyer Earl Rawlins. For months, Rawlins has been negotiating with the Franklin County district attorney about a possible plea bargain for Brunson. Meanwhile, five days after his death, Quintana was buried in Comstock at Washington Correctional Cemetery.

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