Fifth inmate charged in spate of Thomson prison deaths

All facing life if convicted of second-degree murder; most recent death occurred on Feb. 1

The federal prison is located north of Thomson on the west side of Route 84.

THOMSON – In the ongoing saga of inmate deaths at Thomson federal prison, an former inmate from Sonora, Mexico was indicted this week in the death of his cellmate.

Javier Gonzalez-Valenzuela, 47, is charged in U.S. District Court in Rockford with second-degree murder and assault in the Feb. 28, 2021 death of Shay Paniry, according to the indictment.

Gonzalez-Valenzuela is the fifth inmate to be charged in eight separate deaths that have happened at the prison since March 2020. At least three of the deaths involved cellmates.

Paniry, 41, an Israeli mobster from Studio City, California, was found unresponsive in an unspecified area of the prison with life-threatening injuries.

Gonzalez-Valenzuela pleaded not guilty on Tuesday, Acting U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual said in a news release.

He faces up to life if convicted of murder, and up to 10 years if convicted of assault.

Gonzalez-Valenzuela also is scheduled to be sentenced June 6 on charges of possessing a weapon – a piece of plastic with a handle and a sharpened tip – that he used in a fight in September 2020, while still an inmate at Thomson, federal court records show.

He no longer is housed in the high-security Carroll County lockup, the release said.

The most recent death of an inmate, Victor Gutierrez of Joliet, occurred on Feb. 2; a cause has not been released.

Fewer than 3% of all deaths in federal prison from 2001 to 2019 were homicides, according to Justice Department data. That makes Thomson, which has been chronically understaffed, one of the deadliest federal prisons in the nation.

On Feb. 14, less than two weeks after Gutierrez was killed, the BOP closed the prison’s Special Management Unit, where the prison’s most problematic and violent offenders were housed, and where much of the violence and abuse was centered.

According to the Bureau of Prisons and online court records:

On Oct. 19, 2022, Donta Maddox, 44, also was indicted on second-degree murder and assault charges in the Dec. 15, 2021, death of his cellmate, Bobby Everson, 36, who was found unresponsive after a fight, according to an indictment returned in federal court in Rockford and previous releases.

On June 28, 2022, Houston A. Clyde, 25, was indicted on charges of second-degree murder, assault resulting is serious bodily injury and possession of a weapon in the death of his cellmate and fellow Navajo, Edsel Aaron Badoni, 37, of Blue Gap, Arizona.

In December 2021, inmates Brandon C. Simonson and Kristopher S. Martin, both 38 and members of the Valhalla Bound Skinheads, were charged with conspiracy to commit murder, second-degree murder, and hate crimes, all of which carry up to life in prison, and assault resulting is serious bodily injury, which carries 10 years.

They beat Matthew Phillips, 31, of Texas, to death because he was Jewish, according to their indictments. Phillips was found unresponsive with life-threatening head injuries the morning of March 2, 2020. He was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead three days later, the Bureau of Prisons reported at the time.

Phillips’ parents, Jeff Phillips and his ex-wife, Susan, are suing the Bureau of Prisons for wrongful death. The suit was put on hold on Jan. 24, pending the disposition of the two criminal cases.

All four homicide case still are being adjudicated.

The four other inmates who died, according to the BOP, are:

Gutierrez, 32, who was serving two years, nine months for unlawful transport of firearms, and was found unresponsive around 9:20 p.m. Feb. 2 in an unspecified area of the prison. He died later that night at a Clinton, Iowa hospital.

Boyd Weekley, 49, of South Dakota, who was found unresponsive at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 3, 2020, after a fight with another inmate.

Patrick Bacon, 36, who was found unresponsive in his cell around midnight two weeks later, on Dec. 18, 2020. His death was ruled a suicide, his mother, Shelley Bacon, told Shaw Local News Network.

James Everett, 35, who was found unresponsive in an unspecified area of the prison and pronounced dead around 8:30 p.m. March 15, 2020, the victim of a homicide, the bureau reported.

In the wake of the first seven deaths, and a report by National Public Radio and the Marshall Project , a year ago on June 1 the Illinois Congressional delegation called for a Justice Department investigation into allegations that inmates are being mistreated at the prison, and that “serious abuses” by staff members are egging on some of the violence.

The report’s most serious allegations included staff encouraging assaults against sex offenders and informants, and leaving men shackled to a bed for hours in their own urine and feces without food or water. It also says staff laughed at Phillips as he lay dying after his assault, which occurred after he was placed in a recreation cage with known white supremacists.

At the time Gutierrez was killed, the prison was down to 512 inmates. As of Friday, the prison population was 789.

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Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.