2 federal inmates found guilty in prisoner’s death

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two federal inmates with a history of prison violence and suicide attempts are awaiting word on whether they will be sentenced to death for killing a fellow inmate at a Missouri medical center.

A Springfield jury on Wednesday took only an hour to find Wesley Paul Coonce Jr., 34, and Charles Michael Hall, 43, guilty of murder in the Jan. 26, 2010, slaying of Victor Castro-Rodriguez in his cell at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield.

Jurors immediately entered the sentencing phase and can recommend either life in prison or the death penalty. A decision could take two weeks or longer, said Don Ledford, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson.

Hall is serving 16 years for a 2000 conviction in Maine for a series of telephone bomb threats and threatening letters sent to federal officials in 1999. He told investigators he wanted to be sentenced to death for killing Castro, according to court documents.

“The only thing that will stop me from killing again is to put me to death,” he wrote in a letter to the federal prosecutor assigned to the case. “That will not be limited to inmates, but staff as well. I just want to make myself clear on this issue. I will continue killing every chance I get.”

Coonce is serving a life sentence out of Texas for a September 2002 kidnapping conviction. He also was convicted in Gainesville, Texas, in 1998 of assaulting a public servant.

Both were being held at the Springfield medical center when they killed Castro, 51, after tying him up with medical tape and shoelaces. Coonce told investigators he stomped on Castro’s throat, while Hall said he stood on Castro’s throat for five to 10 minutes because he was still alive after Coonce’s kicks.

Both of the men said that if they hadn’t killed Castro, they would have found someone else to murder, court documents show.

Attorneys for Coonce and Hall did not immediately respond to emails sent Thursday morning seeking comment.

The Springfield facility is one of six federal medical centers, and as an administrative unit, it takes federal prisoners at all security levels.

Prosecutors have said both men have “low rehabilitative potential.”

In 2002, while housed at a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas, Coonce and another inmate stopped beating a third prisoner only after a guard chambered a round into his M-16 rifle and ordered the men to stop, prosecutors said.

Court documents show Coonce has tried to commit suicide at least three times and had a history of self-mutilation while behind bars. Hall also tried to kill himself at least three times while in federal custody, records show.


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