Lemon Creek Correctional Center pictured on Friday, April 13, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Lemon Creek Correctional Center pictured on Friday, April 13, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Inmates continue legal battle against state

Convicted murderers say prison officials framed them in escape attempt

Two former Lemon Creek Correctional Center prisoners have long claimed that they were framed in a 2011 escape attempt, and a hearing Thursday sought to finally put the case on a track to resolution.

In September 2011, according to federal court documents, officers at LCCC got a tip that inmates including Billy Dean Smith and Jacob Lee Anagick were planning an escape. Both men were convicted for murder in 2003, according to electronic court records. Smith’s conviction, for first-degree murder on the Kenai Peninsula, came in 2003. Anagick’s conviction, for second-degree murder in Nome, also came in 2003.

Under the supervision of Sgt. Robert Cordle — who is now the LCCC superintendent — an officer searched through Smith’s workshop locker and found a variety of items that might be used for an escape attempt, according to Department of Corrections incident reports in the case file.

According to a Department of Corrections incident report in the case file, those items included a white dress shirt, a tan tarp, condiment bottles, a coat hanger and five lengths of rope in a locker of Smith’s in a shared workshop area. One of those lengths of rope measured more than 27 feet long. In Anagick’s work station, in a filing cabinet, the officer found ropes measuring 109 feet and 34 feet long, according to another incident report in the case file.

Smith and Anagick, currently 54 and 53 respectively, were both punished by being put in administrative segregation (ad seg), being housed separately from other prisoners. In most prisons, “ad seg” means solitary confinement, according to the inmate advocacy group Prison Fellowship. In administrative complaints included in the casefile, both inmates claimed being held in this increased security placement caused emotional and physical distress.

They’ve filed administrative appeals and lawsuits since then, arguing that the DOC officials conspired against them and that the DOC doesn’t train its personnel well enough, according to their most recent complaint filed in 2016. The two men are representing themselves, and name former LCCC superintendent Bruce Busby, Cordle, DOC Commissioner Dean Williams and any John or Jane Does who might have assisted in the search, according to the complaint.

The two men have written in complaints that the officer who found the ropes and escape materials was never named, and that they were never allowed to question this officer during any of their appeals. In a 2014 decision from Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip M. Pallenberg, Pallenberg wrote that the DOC acknowledged that the incident report should have been written by the officer who found the contraband, not by Cordle, who was overseeing the search.

“The DOC concedes that this was a technical violation of 22 AAC 05.410(b), which requires that the report ‘be written by the staff member with the most direct knowledge of the incident,’” Pallenberg wrote.

In that decision, Pallenberg found that Smith’s due process right had been violated because of this error, and reversed the guilty finding in Smith’s institutional record. There was no mention of Anagick in that decision. According to Smith and Anagick’s 2016 complaint, they are now seeking $64.5 million in damages for their punishments.

The case began in state court, then went to federal court and was then sent back to state court, Assistant Attorney General Matthias Cicotte (representing the DOC officials) said in a Thursday interview. Cicotte wouldn’t comment on specifics of the case.

Nobody was physically present at Thursday’s hearing, but Smith, Anagick and Cicotte joined Pallenberg on the phone. Smith and Anagick are currently at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward.

Pallenberg said during the hearing that he wanted to put the case on track to be resolved. He asked both sides when a good time for a trial would be, and Smith proposed January 2020.

“My hope is that a trial won’t be necessary,” Cicotte said in court, “so I’m not as concerned about the trial date.”

Pallenberg tentatively scheduled the trial for a week in January 2020, and said that Aug. 30, 2019 is the deadline for both sides to apply for a way to resolve the case without a trial (such as summary judgment or a motion to dismiss the charges).

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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