- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2010

HAGERSTOWN, Md. | An inmate serving two life terms for setting a house fire that killed two adolescent sisters was apparently slain in prison, just weeks after he was charged with plotting to have the girls’ mother killed, a prison official said Thursday.

An attorney representing the inmate’s mother and alleged co-conspirator in the contract murder case said he thinks Clarence F. Meyers was targeted because he knew about prison gang activities.

The lawyer, Michael W. Gast, said he learned Thursday that Meyers had recently written some letters “indicating that he knew of his impending death.”

“I think this wasn’t just a simple case of a jailhouse killing, where other inmates are killing him because of what he did. I think someone was trying to shut him up,” Mr. Gast said.

State Division of Correction spokesman Mark Vernarelli declined to comment on Mr. Gast’s theory, but said investigators are treating the death as a homicide.

“Our people were fairly certain from the minute he was discovered that this was not a natural cause of death,” Mr. Vernarelli said.

Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley, whose agency is leading the investigation, said Meyers, 39, was found unresponsive in his cell around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday by a correctional officer making his rounds at the maximum-security North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland.

Meyers had been housed with the general population at North Branch, where inmates typically live two to a cell, Mr. Vernarelli said. He wouldn’t say whether Meyers had a cellmate.

Mr. Shipley said investigators interviewed a number of prison staff members and inmates and were awaiting autopsy results. No one has been charged, and investigators were uncertain of a motive, he said.

Meyers was sentenced in October to two life terms for setting a February house fire in Hancock that killed Nicole Gross, 15, and her sister, Mary, 12. Meyers lived in the house with the girls and their mother, Melissa Lindeman, also known as Melissa Wolf.

The laid-off factory worker said at his sentencing that he set the fire in a drunken bid for cash and sympathy and didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt.

About five weeks later, Meyers and his mother, Grace Marie Fink, 67, of Hancock, were charged with conspiring to murder Ms. Lindeman. Meyers’ public defender didn’t return a telephone call Thursday.

Mr. Gast contends that Ms. Fink, who also is charged with murder solicitation, is innocent and was set up by police.

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