- Associated Press - Monday, August 2, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia inmate who warned prosecutors he would kill again if not given the death penalty for strangling his cellmate was involved in the death of another inmate, authorities said.

Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ron Elkins confirmed late Saturday that Robert Gleason Jr. was “involved” in the death of 26-year-old Aaron Alexander Cooper, though Elkins refused to elaborate. Gleason, who was already serving a life term for murder before killing his cellmate last year, has not been charged in the death.

Cooper died Wednesday in the recreation yard for inmates housed in segregation at the maximum security Red Onion State Prison in southwestern Virginia. Elkins is awaiting a report from the medical examiner on Monday, but he said authorities believe Cooper was strangled.

Authorities are trying to figure out how it could have happened, because each inmate is placed in a separate, small caged-in area for recreation. Mr. Elkins said authorities believe Cooper was strangled with a piece of clothing, towel or bed sheet that was somehow reached through the chain link fence that separates the inmates on the recreation yard.

Mr. Elkins said he didn’t know when charges might be filed against Gleason.

Gleason is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 31 for killing his cellmate at Wallens Ridge State Prison last year. He fired his attorneys and pleaded guilty in May, telling prosecutors he would kill again if they didn’t seek the death penalty in his case.

“I murdered that man cold-bloodedly,” the 40-year-old Gleason told The Associated Press. “I planned it, and I’m gonna do it again. Someone needs to stop it. The only way to stop me is put me on death row.”

Mr. Elkins said he may wait until after Gleason is sentenced to determine whether to charge him in Cooper’s death. He was set to visit Red Onion Monday morning to review video surveillance of the incident.

“If he gets the death penalty I’m not really sure what we’ll do,” he said.

Death penalty cases are costly and time-consuming. Gleason has said he would not appeal his case if given the death penalty.

Gleason already was serving life for another murder when he killed 63-year-old Harvey Gray Watson Jr., a man with a history of mental illness who had been placed in Gleason’s cell a week earlier.

Gleason said he begged correctional officers to move Watson, who he said sang, screamed profanities and masturbated in the 8-by-10-foot cell they shared for seven days. He said Watson also got inmates to give him cigarettes in exchange for drinking his urine or clabbered milk on the recreation yard.

On the eighth day — May 8, 2009 — correctional officers found Watson bound, gagged, beaten and strangled. His death went unnoticed for 15 hours because correctional officers had not followed proper procedure for inmate head counts at the high-security prison in southwestern Virginia.

Prison employees involved in that case have denied repeated requests for comment from the AP. Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor declined to discuss the situation, but said that two officers were disciplined and two others were fired. One of the fired officers was reinstated upon appeal.

Mr. Traylor said the department was investigating Cooper’s death. He referred all questions regarding Gleason to the commonwealth’s attorney.

Cooper was serving 34 years for crimes including carjacking and robbery.


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