- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) - A former Florida Panhandle prison guard has denied involvement in an orchestrated beating of an inmate and will be defending himself at trial.

Christopher Blake Christmas, 32, was scheduled to plead guilty Wednesday at the U.S. District Court but said he was not aware of the planned group attack on the inmate and that we would not take the plea deal.

The News Herald (https://bit.ly/1QtzFBK) reports that Christmas was one of five guards indicted on charges of as part of the beating. All but Christmas have pleaded guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors claim former Capt. James Kirkland, who has since died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, told the officers he would yell that Jeremiah Tatum, a 31-year-old inmate at the Northwest Florida Reception Center, spit on him before the beating, which prosecutors say was a retaliation plan.

Prosecutor Gayle Littleton said the evidence against Christmas is very strong, referring to a video showing him and the other guards slamming the inmate down after Kirkland yelled.

Christmas told the court he didn’t know the other guards had plans to do anything other than escort the inmate.

Jury selection begins July 8.

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Information from: The (Panama City, Fla.) News Herald, https://www.newsherald.com

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