| Click here to read poem FRANK
A poem written by fellow death row prisoner Anthony LaMarca
|NEWS! July 16, 2001 - Civil Action For The Murder Of Frank Valdes|
|The Murder Of Frank Valdes|
|Prison Murder - Frank Valdes|
|The Petition To Move The Valdes Trial|
|Florida Supreme Court Opinion On Frank Valdez' case|
|CCADP's Reports On Other Abuses In The Florida Prison System|
News Articles On Frank Valdez.
Reprinted from the Miami Herald.
Click here to visit the Miami Herald's news archives on the beating death of Frank Valdez
Published Tuesday, July 20, 1999, in the Miami Herald
Death Row fatality after fight is probed
MARK SILVA and PHIL LONG Herald Staff Writers
Frank Valdez landed on Death Row for killing a prison guard. Valdez
-- an inmate of ''X-Wing,'' the toughest solitary hold for the most
violent of all -- died on Death Row after a brawl with several guards.
Now the death of Valdez -- who went to prison the first time for
fighting police officers in Miami-Dade County 20 years ago, and who was the first
man married on Florida's Death Row -- is a state police criminal investigation.
Nine guards at Florida State Prison near Starke -- a captain, three sergeants and
several other officers -- are on leave with pay while Florida's Department of Law
Enforcement sorts out what happened Saturday afternoon in the state's
Neither the FDLE, the governor's office nor the Department of Corrections will say
what happened between Valdez and his sentries, but they say an ''active criminal
investigation'' is under way.
Knowledgeable sources say Valdez, 36, died either from a beating suffered as he
fought guards trying to remove him from or return him to his solitary cell -- or from
self-inflicted injuries suffered as he thrashed inside the cell attempting to hurt
''He apparently fought like crazy,'' said Bill Johnson, an attorney for the Police
Benevolent Association representing the prison guards. ''Was there a lot of force
used? Yes. But was a lot of force necessary? Yes.''
Valdez was violent and smart, according to people who knew him. He shot a
prison guard from Glades Correctional Institution at close range in the head in
1987, in an attempt to free a friend imprisoned there. That was the murder that put
Valdez, an ex-con from Miami-Dade, on Death Row in 1990.
''I'm in a state of shock,'' said Wanda Valdez, a West Palm Beach woman who
married Valdez behind bars in January 1994 -- separated by prison plexiglass as
they exchanged vows. ''Why didn't they restrain him? Frank was not a nice guy,
but they were supposed to watch him until he was executed, not watch him jump
off a bunk and kill himself.''
Valdez and his wife were divorced in 1995, according to records, but she says it
was never finalized.
As a younger man, Valdez, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., had been in and out of
prison for a string of crimes in Dade County -- burglary, assault on a police officer,
drug trafficking and kidnapping.
Tried to aid escape
While free in 1987, Valdez and a friend, William Van Poyck, tried to help another
man, James O'Brien, escape from Glades Correctional Institution.
As O'Brien was being taken to a hospital in West Palm Beach, Valdez and Van
Poyck held up the van carrying him. Valdez shot prison guard Fred Griffis, a
decorated Vietnam veteran, in the head. Unable to free O'Brien, Valdez and Van
Poyck led police on a bullet-sprayed chase that ended at Palm Beach
Valdez was convicted and sentenced to death in 1990. On Death Row, he had
lately resisted efforts by a state-appointed attorney to represent him, says Celia
Terenzio, an assistant state attorney general. In a recent letter, Terenzio says,
Valdez asked that his death sentence be carried out. Still, his appeal process
was only about two-thirds complete: ''He would file something and then say, 'Go
ahead and kill me.' ''
Gregg Lerman, the last attorney appointed to represent Valdez, almost two years
ago, says nothing less than freedom was acceptable to Valdez.
''Frank took the attitude that either he was going to get out a free man or die in
the electric chair,'' Lerman said. ''My position with Frank was that I thought he had
a right to a new penalty, that he should have gotten life in prison instead of
death. . . That was not acceptable to him.''
Early Saturday afternoon, guards at Florida State Prison were trying to remove an
unruly Valdez from his cell at X-wing, according to an account by the PBA's
lawyer, Johnson, supported in detail by two well-placed sources.
''This guy couldn't handle it on Death Row, apparently,'' said Johnson. ''This guy
was on X-wing, which is for the folks who can't handle it among regular Death Row
people. It's for the very bad people who are threats to officers or to other inmates.''
Valdez, 180 pounds and five-foot-eight, refused to come out of his cell. Two doses
of chemical spray didn't subdue him, three sources say. As a five-guard team
attempted to remove Valdez with a shield and electrical prod, they say, Valdez
wielded a pepper-spray grenade and knife-like pin from the canister that the
guards had tossed inside.
''There was a legitimate use of force,'' said Johnson, who went to the prison
Saturday evening to investigate. ''They tried one type of chemical agent on the
guy; it did not affect him; tried a second one, and then tried a third one . . . a
[pepper spray] grenade that did not go off.''
When the five-guard ''extraction team'' went in after Valdez, they wielded a shield
that carries a shock. Valdez fought them with canister and pin, kicking and hitting
the guards with the grenade. They exchanged blows. ''In trying to remove him from
the cell, he was combative. They had to use a lot of fists,'' Johnson said.
Examined by doctor
Once Valdez was restrained, all sources say, he was taken to the prison's
doctors for examination. They cleared him to be returned to his cell.
Under almost constant watch inside the cell, sources say, Valdez worked hard at
hurting himself. He climbed the cell's bars, one source says, and leaped to the
floor -- landing on his head.
When guards found him lying on the cell floor, Johnson says, they repeatedly
attempted to revive him with CPR.
Valdez was declared dead at Shands Starke, a community hospital run by the
University of Florida.
The Alachua County Medical Examiner declined to discuss preliminary findings of
an autopsy Monday. The FDLE and Department of Corrections say the report --
as well as the names of the nine correctional officers placed on leave while the
investigation continues -- will not be released.
''I believe when the autopsy comes back it will show a lot of injuries to this guy,''
Johnson said, ''but it will not show any criminal injuries.''
Gov. Jeb Bush, who said he is ''concerned about the circumstances surrounding
the death,'' is following the investigation personally.
''Some people felt that Frank wanted to commit suicide, but he was going to have
the government do it for him,'' said his last lawyer, Lerman. ''Maybe that's what
this was -- push enough buttons and they will do it for him, rather than having to
wait until they march him to the electric chair.''
TALLAHASSEE -- State police believe Frank
condemned murderer on Florida's Death Row, was
beaten to death by prison guards, and the inquiry has
become a murder investigation, sources told The Miami
Valdez, 36, died Saturday after a brawl in ''X-Wing,'' the
most restrictive section of Florida's toughest prison,
Valdez battled a five-member ''extraction team'' of prison guards -- who were
armed with a shield and electrical prod -- as they attempted to remove him from
his cell, well-placed sources say. And the guards fought back, leaving broken ribs
and boot marks on his body, the Gainesville state attorney says.
With an autopsy showing that Valdez died as a result of the beating, the sources
say, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is handling the Death Row
investigation as a murder case.
Neither the agency nor the Department of Corrections would discuss Valdez's
death Tuesday evening, although prison authorities released a list of nine
correctional officers who were placed on leave with pay during the investigation.
Inquiry turns toward murder
Gainesville prosecutors will meet with FDLE investigators today, as the inquiry
turns toward a potential murder charge against one or more guards. The
Gainesville-based state attorney covers six counties, including Bradford, where
Florida State Prison is located.
''We will discuss the case at length'' with state police, said Spencer Mann, a
spokesman for State Attorney Rod Smith.
Valdez, sentenced to death for the 1987 shooting of Fred Griffis, a prison guard at
Glades Correctional Institution, had lived on Death Row since 1990.
On Death Row, a violence-prone Valdez resisted efforts by state-appointed
attorneys to defend him. The state agency that appeals the death penalty on
behalf of condemned prisoners declared it had a conflict of interest because
Valdez once stabbed another Death Row inmate the agency is defending.
History of threatening guards
According to an attorney for the Police Benevolent Association, Valdez also
threatened guards, earning him a bunk in X-Wing, reserved for convicts who
threaten guards or other inmates. The Department of Corrections says Valdez
was under ''disciplinary confinement.''
The PBA's lawyer says the disturbance that led to Valdez's death began when a
guard was attempting to serve Valdez with papers notifying him that he was
getting a disciplinary report for allegedly threatening to kill another guard.
Repeated doses of chemical spray failed to subdue Valdez as guards attempted
to remove him from his cell, says Bill Johnson, the PBA's attorney, and Valdez
fought back with a pepper-spray grenade the guards tossed in at him.
Valdez was finally removed from his cell, restrained and taken for review by prison
doctors, who cleared him to return to his cell. There, under constant watch by
guards, he apparently died. The sheriff's office was summoned at 3 p.m. to
transport Valdez to a local hospital, where he was declared dead.
Nine officers at Florida State Prison are on leave with pay as the inquiry
continues. Tuesday night, the Department of Corrections would release only their
first initial and last names: Capt. T. Thornton; Sgts. M. Lucas, C. Brown, A.
Lewis, R. Sauls and J.P. Griffis; and Officers D. Beck, D. Stanford and R.
The Department of Corrections says it is not known if one of the guards on leave
-- J.P. Griffis -- is related to the 40-year-old guard from Glades whom Valdez killed
in 1987, Fred Griffis. ''We are internally trying to find out if any relationship exists,''
said C.J. Drake, a spokesman.
The father of Fred Griffis, the officer slain in 1987, was from the Starke area.
But Fred Griffis' stepsister, Carolyn Martin of West Palm Beach, says she does
not recognize the name of the guard at Florida State, J.P. Griffis.
''There are cousins up in that area,'' Martin said. ''There are several Griffises up
there . . . I know there were some distant cousins with Corrections. That is the
biggest employer up there.''
Word that the state is eyeing possible murder charges against the guards
troubles her: ''That, to me, would be really upsetting, because Fred was with
Corrections. If it couldn't be done the right way, he didn't want any part of it. . . .
''It would be kind of heart-rending to have it go so long and then have it end up that
any of the guards would have their lives destroyed,'' she said. ''It would be a sad
circumstance if that is what it came down to, when [Valdez] was so close to
going out through the letter of the law.''
Herald staff writer Phil Long contributed to this report.
In pursuit of a murderer's murderer, investigators
say the answer to who killed Death Row inmate
Frank Valdez will turn on cracking the loyalty of a
close-knit circle of prison guards to find out which
ones beat him to death, and which simply watched.
''We're talking about a homicide, a murder,'' said
Tim Moore, commissioner of the Florida
Department of Law Enforcement. ''I hope those
individuals involved will just, in the quietness of their
own minds, decide: 'Look. Do I want to be a
defendant in a murder trial, or do I want to be a
witness in a murder trial?'
''I hope they will step up and do the right thing.''
Agents of the FDLE, handling a murder
investigation formally announced Wednesday, have
searched the homes of seven of the nine Florida
State Prison guards placed on leave with pay since
the death of Valdez, 36, on Saturday.
The FDLE said it retrieved ''items significant to the
criminal case.'' This includes clothing and boots
and prison records from one guard's home.
Officially, all that the FDLE will say about the
circumstances surrounding Valdez's death in
''X-Wing'' -- the cells where the hardest-core
convicts are held -- is that a sealed medical
examiner's report ''supports FDLE's beliefs that
Valdez was beaten to death.''
Not a murder, attorney says
Valdez died some time after officers removed him
from his cell by force. But Bill Johnson, an attorney
for the Police Benevolent Association who is
representing the guards, said there was no murder
on Death Row.
There was a brawl, he allows -- a violent
confrontation as shielded prison guards removed a
recalcitrant Valdez from his cell Saturday. But he
said the guards filed reports later that day
documenting their needed ''use of force.'' And, he
added, that included mentioning that they heard his
ribs cracking as two of them performed
''He was not an angel,'' Johnson said of Valdez.
''But he did not deserve to be murdered. And I don't
think he was murdered.
''Our guys have been up front from the start and
reported the injuries. We fully expected the autopsy
to show injuries,'' Johnson said. ''There was no
attempt to cover up anything.''
Rod Smith, the Gainesville-based state attorney
overseeing any prosecution, called portions of the
guards' stories ''implausible, if not preposterous.''
Smith said: ''The death that was inflicted in this case is a beating, and it is a
''It's a hate crime,'' said Wanda Eads Valdez of West Palm Beach, who married
the confined convict in 1994 -- Florida's first Death Row wedding. ''I knew from the
start he was beaten to death . . . It's just devastating.''
The state hasn't publicly singled out any suspects among the nine sidelined
guards, whose prison experience ranges from three to 15 years.
The senior officer in the group, Capt. Timothy A. Thornton, 33, a 14-year veteran
of the Department of Corrections, declined to comment on the Valdez
''I'm under counsel,'' said Thornton, reached at his home in Starke. ''I wish I could,
but I can't answer any questions . . . I'm sorry.''
Thornton has an arrest record of his own. He was charged with aggravated battery
in Bradford County in March 1986, as he was starting work as a prison guard,
state records show. His brother and another man had a fight at a bar where
Thornton worked as a doorman. He tried to break it up. Scott Petty, 24, suffered a
broken jaw and ribs. The case was dropped when Petty dropped charges, records
State investigates vigorously
Wednesday, more than a dozen FDLE agents were encamped at Florida State
Prison investigating the death of Valdez, who was sentenced to the electric chair
for the 1987 shooting of a guard from Glades Correctional Institution.
Sometime after lunch Saturday, a guard attempted to remove Valdez from his cell
on X-Wing. Valdez refused, Johnson says, and resisted violently.
The inmate was sprayed with chemicals, and a pepper-spray grenade was tossed
into his cell. When the grenade didn't detonate, Valdez used the canister in one
hand and a knife-like pin from the grenade in the other to attack the five-guard
extraction team that entered his cell with a shield and electric prod.
They fought, Johnson says, and Valdez was restrained.
Led to the prison infirmary, Valdez was examined. Johnson believes a nurse, not
a doctor, checked the convict, but the Department of Corrections will not
comment and the medical office at Florida State Prison isn't saying.
Valdez was returned to another cell on X-Wing, Johnson says, where he thrashed
around and threw himself to the floor.
Guards monitoring him in that cell found him lying on the floor, Johnson says, and
attempted to revive him. The FDLE says Valdez was dead by 3 p.m., when the
Bradford County Sheriff's Office was called to come get him.
State Attorney Smith says Valdez suffered ''multiple blunt traumas.''
Each of the five officers involved in Valdez's ''extraction'' filed reports of their use of
force Saturday night, Johnson says, and two noted the inmate's broken ribs.
''In doing CPR, one guy felt the ribs going,'' Johnson said. A second guard
breathing into Valdez's mouth reported: ''When the officer was doing
compressions, I heard them pop,'' Johnson said.
''Are there cracked ribs?'' Johnson said. ''Yeah, we told them on Saturday they
were going to find cracked ribs.''
The FDLE will not say why search warrants were served Tuesday night at the
homes of just seven of the nine guards temporarily relieved of duties.
No deals, spokeswoman says
FDLE spokeswoman Liz Hirst cautioned against reading into that some sort of
deal afoot for two of the guards. None have been offered immunity against
prosecution, she said.
Johnson said investigators have given him no indication ''that they have singled
out any one person.''
He added that the FDLE could have had the clothing and boots seized with
search warrants ''for the asking.'' Of Corrections Department papers seized at one
home, he says: ''It's not unusual that nine guys who work for Corrections are
going to have DOC stuff around the house.'' After the guards filed reports on the
incident Saturday night, he says, one may have taken a copy home.
The FBI offered assistance to the state on Monday.
''But at this point it is still an investigation being conducted by the FDLE with help
from the state attorney's office,'' Hirst said. ''It is a homicide on state property, and
it seems that is where it is going to stay.''
Until answers are found, a storm of questions over Starke is casting shadows on
a correctional community that prides itself on professionalism.
''It's like a huge hurricane that's stationary,'' the PBA's Johnson says. ''It's just
kind of sitting there doing a lot of damage, but no one knows where it's going to
The six-county court circuit of pine woods, prisons and state college campuses
may be a tough place in which to prosecute one or more of the thousands of
correctional officers who work in the many state prisons of Northeast Florida. The
FDLE's Moore acknowledges it will be difficult to impanel a jury.
''I don't have a lot of sympathy for Mr. Valdez, to be honest with you. He was a
convicted killer,'' Moore said. ''But I do have a lot of respect for the rules we play
by in a civilized society . . . Regardless of how despicable some men may be,
they don't deserve to die this way.''
Herald researchers Tina Cummings and Liz Donovan contributed to this report.
| Click here to read poem FRANK
A poem written by fellow death row prisoner Anthony LaMarca