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Death-row inmate and guard accused of affair

An Arkansas death-row inmate allegedly passed love letters to a guard and committed a sex act with her before supervisors discovered their illicit romance, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Arkansas death-row inmate allegedly passed love letters to a guard and committed a sex act with her before supervisors discovered their illicit romance, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

Prison officials fired guard Danita Williams in July, saying she helped the unnamed inmate trade crackers in a laundry bag for soup from another prisoner. However, an internal investigation uncovered allegations that a romantic relationship between Williams and the inmate began at least in April as she guarded him during the graveyard shift at the state's Varner Unit.

Williams' firing comes after a series of high-profile incidents at the state prison system, ranging from two convicted murderers escaping in guard uniforms to a man being shot to death at a contraband checkpoint and another inmate's near death. Lawmakers visited the state's Cummins Unit last week as part of their inquiry into complacency among guards at the 20-prison system.

Annonymous letters surface
An anonymous letter reached chief prison deputy director Ray Hobbs on May 29 and another, more detailed letter surfaced in June, alleging Williams had an inappropriate relationship with the inmate, the internal report reads.

The second letter claimed the death-row inmate performed a sex act with Williams during the April 28 night shift.

The detailed letter alleged other guards delivered love letters from the inmate to Williams, that Williams personally delivered a package to him and that she ferried a pillow case carrying goods from the commissary for the inmate, the report reads. The anonymous tipster also told officials that surveillance camera footage would confirm the allegations.

The internal affairs report by prison investigator Ronald Vilches shows a prison lieutenant noticed Williams' request to guard the inmate's area April 23. Vilches wrote that Williams "went straight" to the inmate's cell. The lieutenant also said Williams admitted passing the laundry bag full of goods to another inmate.

Record of passing goods for inmates
During the investigation, Vilches wrote that another official told him Williams already was subject to disciplinary action over passing goods among inmates. However, Vilches said he found no paper record of any action; instead she apparently received only a verbal reprimand.

"Both this investigator and (Warden Grant) Harris were amazed since trafficking and trading carries a punishment of termination," Vilches wrote in his report.

Prison spokeswoman Dina Tyler did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Williams' case.

Harris fired Williams on July 7.

"When I asked you if this constituted 'trafficking and trading' you stated that it did," Harris wrote in Williams' termination letter. "I then asked you why you would engage in such behavior and you had no response."

A telephone number for Williams could not be found Wednesday. Prison officials redacted Williams' address and hometown from the discipline reports.

Security a long-term problem
Security on death row has been a problem in the past. In 1995, when the state's Tucker Unit held death-row inmates, an Arkansas State Police investigation found a massive smuggling operation. State troopers found contraband including a priest's cassock, weapons, gunpowder, syringes and a greeting card with marijuana leaves on it. The investigation began after the discovery of a hole between two cells, which an inmate allegedly used to sexually assault another inmate.

Prison officials moved death row to a maximum-security lockup at the Varner Unit in 2003. Recently, a visitor to death row was caught trying to smuggle in a box cutter, a pocket knife, tweezers and tattoo needles, Tyler has said.

Forty men await lethal injection for killings dating as far back as 1989. The state's death chamber remains nearby at the Cummins Unit.