Alaska Department of Corrections staff mistakenly gave a razor to Israel Keyes, a self-confessed serial killer who used the blade to commit suicide last year in an Anchorage jail cell, the department said Wednesday.
Keyes, who was in "punitive segregation" at the time, was not supposed to have a razor at all, and corrections officers failed to get it back from him, officials said. In addition to slitting his left wrist, Keyes strangled himself with a bed sheet, according to the department.
Corrections officers found Keyes dead in a bloody cell at the Anchorage Correctional Complex just before 6 a.m. on Dec. 2. FBI agents and Anchorage police officers, who spent hours drawing information out of Keyes in interviews, have said the suicide was devastating to their investigation. The authorities say Keyes admitted to killing Anchorage teenager Samantha Koenig, Vermont couple Bill and Lorraine Currier and as many as eight others. But the investigators had not yet identified Keyes' other victims by the time he died.
Keyes was initially arrested in Texas in March 2012 on bank fraud charges. Brought to Anchorage, he was held in a single cell in a segregation unit, initially for his own safety, the Corrections Department said in a written statement Wednesday. After he tried to escape during a May court appearance, extra security measures were imposed, including a two-officer escort any time he was out of his cell, daily strip searches and restrictions on shaving razors and pencils, the department said.
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Then, on Sept. 11, 2012, an internal disciplinary board found Keyes guilty of possessing an object that had been modified to serve as a handcuff key, the department said. Corrections spokeswoman Kaci Schroeder said the object was a paperclip wrapped in dental floss.
The board sentenced Keyes to 15 days in punitive segregation, and the sentence began Nov. 28, 2012, the department said. Schroeder said Keyes was prohibited from having paperclips or other metal objects in his cell.
A corrections officer last saw Keyes alive at 10:13 p.m. on Dec. 1, and security checks were done throughout the night and the early morning at 30- to 40-minute intervals, Schroeder said. Such checks require an officer to look into each cell, verify the prisoner's presence, and visually observe the prisoner's uncovered skin. Through the night, only an LED night light illuminated Keyes' cell, the department said.
When the main lights flicked on about 5:57 a.m. Dec. 2, a corrections officer just starting his shift noticed blood on the floor of Keyes' cell, according to the department's statement. The officer radioed jail medical staff, who arrived four minutes later, and city paramedics arrived at the jail about 14 minutes after the first radio call, the Corrections Department said. They pronounced Keyes dead at 6:13 a.m.
State and federal law enforcement agencies investigated and found Keyes had cut his left wrist with a razor blade embedded in a pencil and used a bed sheet to tie a noose around his neck and right foot, pulling it tight behind his back by extending his leg.
"It was learned a razor had been mistakenly issued to Keyes and it appears that razor was not retrieved," the department's written statement said.
Schroeder would not say if the overnight cell checks were performed correctly, if the checks were documented, or how and when Corrections officials believe Keyes obtained the razor. State law prevented her or other officials from discussing specific actions by jail personnel, Schroeder said. The department has declined to release its investigation report, citing the possibility of a lawsuit. Schroeder said she was unaware of any pending lawsuit.
Schroeder would also not say if anyone was fired or disciplined following the investigation. She said Alaska correctional institutions have put in place a new procedure as a result of Keyes' suicide.
"Before, if there were restrictions on an inmate, it was in a book. The (corrections officer) would go over and look in a book," Schroeder said. "Now it's going to be on a sign plastered on the door of the cell. So it's going to be right there, very obvious."
For example, restrictions prohibiting inmates like Keyes from having razors would be clearly posted outside their jail cells, Schroeder said.