After Valdez's conviction, his attorney Randall Bates pleaded to the judge for a short jail sentence, noting that the victim was not seriously hurt and that Valdez's dialysis had "already strained jail resources to the maximum." But his client was on probation for an attempted assault and had a record of assaults, trespasses, disorderly conduct, and theft, though none of his offenses had been serious enough to result in more than a few months in jail. Now the judge handed him four years in prison.

Olga Rivera said Valdez's mother decided to allow his body to be cremated because it was the least expensive option and she was about to leave on a flight to Santo Domingo when she learned of her son's death. This decision upset Olga greatly. Valdez never would have wanted it, she said. His ashes are in a box in his nephew's office in Manhattan.

Olga said she was told by Valdez's mother, who had been called by his inmate friends, that prison guards "tied up Victor and threw him down in the dungeon." He was so sick, she said, that he would not have been able to survive a beating.

Investigation begun

Garvey's persistence paid off. In early January, William Stokes, the deputy attorney general in charge of homicide investigations, e-mailed her that Attorney General Mills had forwarded to him "the information you have supplied" and that he would be reviewing "the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Valdez." The aim would be to see if the death should be considered a homicide.

Garvey, who was also collecting inmates' testimony about supermax conditions for a legislative hearing on a bill to restrict solitary confinement, redoubled her efforts through her correspondence to get information from prisoners about Valdez and to feed to Stokes the names of inmates who wanted to be interviewed.

During Garvey's e-mailing back and forth with Stokes, she learned to her dismay that Greenwald had not examined the body, although he said Greenwald was helping the state police review Valdez's medical records.

By late January state police detectives had interviewed some prisoners, but others complained that even though they had directly witnessed what had happened to Valdez, the detectives wouldn't interview them. In late May, Garvey sent Stokes a list of a dozen men who "have asked to be interviewed by the police as witnesses in the Victor Valdez investigation," nine of them in the supermax when Valdez was there.

The review dragged on. Stokes informed her that the state police went back to the prison for additional interviews. He also e-mailed her that there was "no timetable or time line" on his review "given the complexity of these cases." He added: "Once a decision has been made, whatever that is, I will notify you."

On July 23, Greenwald e-mailed the Phoenix that the state police had completed their investigation and that Stokes would review the file after he returned from vacation in early August.

A cover-up?

Garvey and other prison-issue activists are grateful that the AG's office decided to look into Valdez's death, but they see the actions of the Department of Corrections in this case as "a cover-up," in Garvey's words.

"The public would not even have learned that he had died" except for the distressed prisoners, Garvey said in an interview, adding that a dozen inmates "all told the same story."

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Related: AG exonerates guards, Time for law to end torture, Prison ‘troublemaker’ confronts racism, medical abuse, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Prison, Maine Department of Corrections, homicide,  More more >
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