MICHAEL BALSAMO - Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two inmates have died in as many days from coronavirus at the federal prison complex where the U.S. government plans to carry out two executions next week.
The virus deaths are likely to raise alarm with advocates and lawyers for the condemned men over the spread of coronavirus at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana. As of Tuesday, more than 40 inmates had confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the agency’s statistics.
The executions of Christopher Andre Vialva and William Emmett LeCroy are scheduled to be carried out at the prison complex next week. The government carried out three executions in July and two executions in August.
The Bureau of Prisons said a 53-year-old inmate, Tim Hocutt, died Monday at the Terre Haute facility.
Hocutt, who was serving a 13-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, had reported that he was suffering from a “mild cough, congestion and nausea” and had previously tested negative for COVID-19, the Bureau of Prisons said. But Hocutt tested positive on Monday after he alerted medical staff to his condition and was pronounced dead the same day at the complex’s medium-security prison.
His death came a day after the death of another inmate, Byron Dale Bird, who was serving a sentence at the high-security penitentiary on the prison grounds.
The 65-year-old Bird was taken to a local hospital on Aug. 27 after testing positive for the virus and was admitted to an intensive care unit. He died at the hospital on Sunday. Bird was serving a 74-year prison sentence after being convicted of sexual abuse of a minor, witness tampering, failing to register as a sex offender and other charges.
Witnesses to the federal executions are required to undergo security screening at the high-security penitentiary, where Bird was housed. The witnesses are required to wear masks, and their temperatures are taken before they are permitted on the prison grounds.
The spiritual advisers for two of the men who were executed in July and the family of one of the men’s victims had fought unsuccessfully to delay their executions over coronavirus concerns.
The federal prison system has struggled to combat the coronavirus pandemic behind bars, where social distancing is nearly impossible. As of Tuesday, 13,477 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 at facilities across the U.S.; 11,623 had recovered. Officials said 120 inmates have died since late March.