A 2003 murder at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater in California’s San Joaquin Valley will be resolved Tuesday when the accused inmate pleads guilty in a deal that spares him from the death penalty, according to his defense attorney.
Samuel Richard Stone, now 35, will be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole for the slaying of fellow Atwater inmate Michael Anita, under the plea agreement agreed to by Attorney General Eric Holder.
Because Stone has been held at U.S. Penitentiary Lewisburg, in Pennsylvania, the Tuesday afternoon plea-and-sentence hearing will take place at a federal courthouse in Philadelphia.
Stone’s defense attorney, Donald R. Knight, declined to comment further until after the hearing Tuesday.
Stone was already serving a life sentence for murder in 2003 when Atwater authorities placed him in what was supposed to be a two-man cell at the prison’s Secure Housing Unit. Stone was one of three convicted murderers sharing the small space.
Early on the morning of July 30, 2003, according to court documents, correctional officers responded to an alarm and found Anita on the floor, braided strips of a bed sheet wrapped around his neck. He had been stabbed approximately 17 times with improvised weapons including a pen and a pencil.
“Inmate Stone told the officer that he had just killed his ‘cellie’ and he needed to get him out of the cell,” prosecutors stated in a June 2013 legal filing.
Following the murder, Stone was relocated for the next six years to the high-security Supermax prison in Colorado, where court records show he served without notable incident. In an April 2013 legal filing, his defense attorneys noted that Stone “did so well that (the Bureau of Prisons) judged him to be safe to return to a general prison population.”
In March 2012, Stone was charged in Anita’s death with first-degree murder and murder by a federal prisoner serving a life sentence.
“It was difficult to believe, quite frankly, that after all those years, after Mr. Stone being at the (Supermax) for six years, that they would bring this case as a death penalty case,” Knight stated at an October 2012 court hearing, a transcript shows.
At the same hearing, Knight advised the judge that a Bureau of Prisons psychiatrist had determined Stone was “suffering from bipolar disorder.” Stone’s mental condition was going to be a factor in seeking to mitigate his potential sentence, Knight told the judge at the hearing.
Holder had initially authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Stone. As part of the subsequent legal maneuvering, though, defense attorneys last summer submitted a lengthy package to the Justice Department’s Review Committee on Capital Cases.
The confidential 70-page defense submission included more than 60 exhibits, including videos, and according to a legal filing was “comprised of information that was not available to the parties at the time death was authorized as a penalty in this case.”
The trial-level prosecutors made their own recommendation, which remains sealed. Past court filings, though, hinted at the meeting of the minds.
“The parties have been constantly communicating and acting in good faith with respect to this process,” a July 10 joint filing signed by both defense attorneys and prosecutors noted.
Defense submissions last year included a conditional plea agreement signed by Stone in which he indicated a willingness to admit guilt in exchange for the government agreeing not to seek the death penalty.
There were 63 federal inmates on death row as of last October, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The last federal executions took place in 2003.