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Friday, May 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Rikers Guards Plead Not Guilty in Inmate Death

MANHATTAN (CN) - Two days after being slapped with a fresh indictment, a Riker's prison guard charged with a death-penalty offense of killing an inmate pleaded not guilty to his new charge, and his colleague denied his complicity in a cover-up.

On the early morning of Dec. 19, 2012, inmate Ronald Spear sought a doctor's help with his liver disease and got into a profanity-laced argument with corrections officer Brian Coll after the doctor canceled his appointment, prosecutors say.

Spear - who wore glasses, walked with a cane, and had been classified as a fall risk - had been restrained facedown on the ground with his hands behind his back when Coll started kicking him in the head, according to the indictment.

This past June, prosecutors stopped short of alleging that the onslaught caused Spear's death.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara showed no such reticence in a superseding indictment filed on Tuesday.

The new top charge against Coll, 45, carries a possible penalty of life imprisonment or the death penalty, or decades of incarceration on lesser charges for allegedly planting Spears' cane as evidence and misleading investigators about the incident.

A death sentence would be unlikely, however. No case in New York, state or federal, has resulted in an execution since 1953, though the Empire State has one federal prisoner on death row, the New York Times reported two years ago.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty. The Department of Justice conducts an internal review of all death penalty-eligible cases to determine whether capital charges are appropriate, and prosecutors have not disclosed what stage of this review has occurred as to Coll's case.

Coll's colleague Brian Taylor, 31, could spend up to 40 years behind bars for obstructing justice by allegedly filing false use of force reports.

Both men denied all of the new counts at a brief arraignment on Tuesday morning, paving the way for a trial.

The parties told U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska that they are preparing for 3-week trial beginning on May 31, 2016.

After the hearing, Coll's attorney Sam Schmidt told reporters that prosecutors charged more than they could prove.

"A review of the medical examiner's records and conversations we had with our expert makes me confident that the new charge is overreaching, and we'll be able to demonstrate that," he told reporters following the hearing.

Taylor's lawyer Samuel Braverman, from the Bronx-based firm Fasulo Braverman & Di Maggio, declined to comment.

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