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What put Barksdale on
life support?

Prison officials looking for reasons beyond heat, respiratory illness

By Holly Hollman
and M.J. Ellington · 340-2445

Alabama prison officials now say heat and respiratory problems are probably not the causes of Farron Barksdale’s medical condition.

Barksdale, who killed two Athens police officers in 2004, remained unconscious in a Montgomery hospital Monday. He was on a ventilator.

“We still do not know exactly what happened to this man,” Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said Monday. “We still do not know all the facts in this case, and Mr. Barksdale is unable to speak for himself.”

An internal prison system investigation is under way. Corbett said it would take days and perhaps weeks to determine cause.

Earlier, corrections officials had said heat-related problems and an upper respiratory condition sent Barksdale to Baptist Medical Center South on Saturday. Doctors there found bruising on him that appeared to be four or five days old, according to Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen.

Injuries that old would have occurred before Limestone County deputies transferred Barksdale, 32, to state custody Wednesday.

But Limestone Sheriff Mike Blakely said love letters and an accident in the shower are the only two incidents Limestone County’s jail staff have had with Barksdale.

“He was fine when he left here,” Blakely said. “In fact, we have video of him doing push-ups the night before we transported him.

Blakely said Barksdale had one accident at Limestone, when he fell in a shower in 2004.

“We documented that, and I seriously doubt bruising is showing up from that three years later,” the sheriff said.

Barksdale also had a disciplinary incident for writing love letters to a female staff member, Blakely said.

Blakely’s staff transported to Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Blakely said Lt. Randy Bates and a reserve officer transported Barksdale, and the reserve officer inadvertently left Barksdale’s medical form in the van.

Blakely said a nurse from Kilby called Limestone’s medical staff later that day to see what medications Barksdale had been taking because he was hearing voices and might have to go to the hospital.

Barksdale had no medical problems at Limestone other than that he took psychotic drugs, Blakely said. He said his medical staff had to adjust Barksdale’s medications during his three-year stay at the jail. Barksdale’s attorneys have said he is a paranoid schizophrenic.

“My medical staff got another call Saturday and were told it appeared Barksdale had been severely beaten,” Blakely said.

“He supposedly has bruising on his abdomen and the pelvic area. I don’t want to point any fingers, but I can unequivocally say a beating did not happen at Limestone or in transit.”

Blakely said when his staff takes a prisoner to Kilby, prison employees do a medical exam, make the inmate take a shower and do a strip search.

“When they check for contraband, they look in all the body’s orifices,” Blakely said. “If he had been beaten up in transit, they would have noted it then.”

Corbett said there have been many rumors about the causes for Barksdale’s condition, including one that he has a broken pelvis.

Pelvis not broken

“He does not have a broken pelvis,” Corbett said. Barksdale does have bruises in the pelvic region.

Corbett said there is no notation on Barksdale’s intake paperwork indicating that he had bruising when he arrived at the prison.

After Barksdale’s routine strip search as part of his 90-day intake into the prison system at Kilby, Corbett said, the inmate remained in a single cell away from the general prison population, as do other new inmates.

Corbett discounted rumors that any assault on Barksdale occurred at Kilby.

Allen said heat is a serious problem in the state’s prisons, which are overcrowded and not air-conditioned. He said since temperatures exceeded 100 degrees, inmates were on limited physical activity during the weekend, with the men wearing only their underwear to keep them as cool as possible.

Blakely said if Barksdale had old injuries, prison officials should have noticed them before Saturday, especially if he was only in underwear.

Isolation in Limestone

Blakely said Barksdale was in isolation at Limestone following his plea agreement with the state.

Barksdale of Athens shot and killed officer Tony Mims and Sgt. Larry Russell on Jan. 2, 2004, at his mother’s Horton Street home with a 7.62 mm assault rifle. He pleaded guilty to five counts of capital murder and two counts of shooting into an occupied vehicle.

On Aug. 6, two days before his transport to Kilby, a Limestone jury confirmed his guilt. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Barksdale attended the daylong trial in Athens, and appeared to be fine.

On Monday, an investigator with DOC got copies of Limestone’s video of Barksdale and took statements from jail staff and the transport team, Blakely said.

“Whatever happened to him, happened after he got to Montgomery,” Blakely said. “We don’t mete out retribution here. I have compassion for his family and the family of the officers he killed. Barksdale’s family are good citizens in our county, and I know they love him, no matter what he did.”

Prison officials were to arrange for the family to visit Barksdale at the hospital.

The inmate’s mother, Mary Barksdale, declined Monday to talk with reporters, saying only that she found it hard to believe some of the news reports she heard.

“I’m sorry. I have nothing to say,” she said.

In Athens at the home of Barksdale’s aunt, Dorothy Ford, a family friend who did not give his name said most of the family’s information has come from the news media.

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