Serial killers will no longer share a jail cell with criminals convicted of less serious crimes, if the Correctional Service of Canada accepts a recommendation handed down by a coroner’s jury Wednesday.
The recommendation is one of five made by the jury of three men and two women following an inquest this week into the death of Jeremy Phillips, who was found dead in his jail cell at Mountain Institution Nov. 22, 2010.
Michael Wayne McGray, a self-proclaimed sociopath and convicted killer of six, was Phillips’ cellmate at the time. McGray had been transferred out of Kent prison, a maximum-security facility, to the medium-security facility where he was double-bunked with Phillips.
The coroner’s jury asked the Correctional Service to “consider a mandatory single accommodation arrangement for multiple murderers” unless there is evidence and an assessment that “a shared accommodation is both safe and practical.”
However, according to an earlier media report, a prison official testified at the inquest that before the transfer McGray was indeed reforming and was committed to his correctional plan.
A Correctional Service spokesman said any response to the recommendations would have to come from Ottawa, but that didn’t happen before The Progress deadline Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the B.C. Coroner’s Office said officials there could not comment publicly on the jury’s recommendations.
A coroner’s jury cannot make findings of fault or blame, but can make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths in the future.
McGray, 45. pleaded guilty to killing his 33-year-old cellmate, and coldly told a Chilliwack court that he was “100 percent guilty of planning and committing this murder.”
“I just want to wrap this up,” he said. “I don’t need to talk to a lawyer. In fact, I refuse. I don’t want to talk to a lawyer.”
McGrath told police after his arrest that Phillips wanted to stage a hostage-taking incident so he could be sent to the infirmary, and so McGrath could go back to Kent prison.
He said Phillips “gave him a hug” before setting the plan in motion, and then lay face down on the cot so he could be tied up.
But instead of the hostage-taking plan, McGrath said he became angry and strangled Phillips for about five minutes, and then punched him once in the head to make sure he wasn’t faking death.
He said he had to kill Phillips “very quietly” because a correctional service officer was only 23 feet away.
The coroner’s jury also recommended the Correctional Service consider:
• tasking assistant wardens with ensuring recommendations by a board of investigations are followed;
• making available to all line staff all information regarding inmates prior to an approved transfer;
• authorizing wardens to make exceptions to the wait list for single cells in order to move more dangerous offenders into them, or to delay the transfer until a single cell is available;
• reviewing a policy regarding flashlight intensity and explore alternate technologies to detect inmates’ body heat.
McGrath said he killed Phillips at about 10:15 p.m. and covered him to make it look like he was sleeping. Phillips’ body was not discovered until 12 hours later.