Four men have died in one Alabama prison since last Thursday. Two of those deaths are being investigated as homicides.
Austin Knowles, Timmy Wilson, Denarieya Letrex Smith, and Joseph Agee, III, died at William Donaldson Correctional Facility between Sept. 29 and Oct. 3.
Knowles was taken to the infirmary at Donaldson on Sept. 29 for medical attention. Life-saving measures were unsuccessful, the Alabama Department of Corrections said. He was from Huntsville and had turned 25 that month.
ADOC said it could not release more information and that Knowles’ cause of death is pending a full autopsy.
Wilson, 66, died late Friday night. A cellmate found Wilson unresponsive in his cell at Donaldson at 11 p.m., and he was pronounced dead 15 minutes later, according to a report from the Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner's Office. Wilson is believed to have died of natural causes, pending additional laboratory studies.
An examination performed Saturday found no evidence of trauma or foul play related to his death.
Smith, 30, died early Saturday morning. He was found at 3:30 a.m. and pronounced dead at 4:03 a.m., according to the coroner’s office. The coroner's office said Smith sustained sharp force injuries during a reported assault by other incarcerated people.
ADOC said Smith was transported to the infirmary for severe injuries, where lifesaving measures were attempted before his death.
Agee was found at 5:54 p.m. Monday and pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m. He also was the victim of an assault with a sharp instrument by another incarcerated person, according to the coroner’s office. ADOC said he was immediately taken to the prison infirmary, where lifesaving measures were attempted before his death.
Agee, 29, was from Selma.
Smith’s father, who lives in Andalusia, said he’s tried to learn how, why, or when his son died. But the prison has offered little such information, and he’s been unable to reach the Donaldson warden despite being told Saturday that he would be able to talk with them on Monday.
“I called probably like 10 times yesterday,” Alfagus Smith said when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon. This is what he says he was told: “We're gonna put you on the other line, speak to the voicemail.”
“I put a voicemail to the warden, and I still haven’t heard nothing yet,” he said. “The chaplain called me back yesterday, … but I haven’t talked with the warden.”
The chaplain prayed with them, but he didn’t go into much detail about what happened, he said.
But by Monday, Alfagus Smith already knew what happened to his son. He said that other incarcerated men told him what happened and shared video of the violent incident that led to his son’s death. In fact, they were the first ones to tell him that his son had died.
“Everything that we know is stuff we heard from guys on the inside,” he said. From what he’s been told, there weren’t any correctional officers around when his son was attacked. "It's heartbreaking," he said.
Alfagus Smith said that when he called ADOC’s main office, the person he talked with acknowledged the prison’s understaffing issues. But he wanted them to know that didn’t excuse his son’s death.
“I told them, ‘Ma’am, I know y’all are understaffed. But that ain’t a reason for my son to lose his life, because y’all are understaffed,’” he said he told the ADOC.
Alfagus Smith already knew about the prison’s many issues. Denarieya called often, afraid, telling his father about the violence at Donaldson, which has already seen more deaths in nine months of 2022 than in all of 2021.
When he called home, Denarieya would say he knew that what he did was wrong. And he would often ask his father to pass along a message: “Daddy, you need to tell these young folks that this is a place that they don’t want to be.”
This story was updated Wednesday afternoon after ADOC released the name of Joseph Agee III, whose name had been withheld pending notification of his family.
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This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Four dead in Donaldson prison, two considered homicides