An Illinois prison guard now faces a possible life sentence after a federal jury found him guilty of multiple civil rights violations leading to the death of a prisoner, according to the Associated Press.
In 2018, prison guard Alex Banta, 30, was one of “dozens” of officers at the Western Illinois Correctional Center who responded to a disturbance in one of the housing units. There, they found elderly prisoner Larry Earvin refusing to return to his assigned cell.
According to witness testimony, officers kicked and manhandled Earvin before Banta, his sergeant, and several other officers escorted him to the prison’s administrative segregation housing unit.
Prosecutors alleged that Earvin, 65, suffered a second attack in the administrative segregation vestibule, an institutional “blind spot” with no security cameras. The guards allegedly kicked, punched, stomped and jumped on Earvin while he was face-down on the floor.
Earvin suffered extensive injuries from the two beatings, including 15 broken ribs, and had to undergo surgery to remove a section of his intestine. He died 39 days later on June 26.
Officer Banta was eventually charged—not for murder in the Illinois state court, but for federal civil rights violations in the U.S. District Court. The charges included depriving and conspiring to deprive Earvin of his civil rights, falsifying documentation, obstructing the investigation, and “misleading conduct.”
Two of Banta’s supervisors were also charged in connection with Earvin’s death.
After admittedly lying to state and federal investigators, Sgt. Willie Hedden, 43, avoided trial by pleading guilty and agreed to provide testimony for the prosecution in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence, according to the AP.
Lt. Todd Sheffler, 53, was tried alongside Banta, but the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
Some jurors questioned the credibility of Sgt. Hedden and other prison staff who testified on the second beating in the vestibule, because they admitted to initially giving false statements to the FBI and Illinois State Police.
“[The jury] came to the position that Mr. Banta was alongside Mr. Earvin in the escort from beginning to end, while [Lieutenant] Sheffler joined midway,” said Kevin Sullivan, one of the jurors. “But he had to know something had happened. He had to be part of the coverup.”
Some jurors, Sullivan added, “were on the fence because they didn’t think the assault happened in (segregation).”
In spite of Banta’s conviction, Sullivan said he remained unsatisfied with the trial’s outcome and the jury’s split decision on Lt. Sheffler’s guilt.
“I’m frustrated,” he said. “I don’t feel like we finished the job.”