News & Politics

Foul Odor Leads Calif. Prison Officials to Inmate Who Had Died Three Days Earlier in HIs Cell

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On April 24, 2017, a little over two years into his prison sentence, James Acuna was discovered dead in his cell by prison employees at the Donovan State Prison located near San Diego. He had been dead for two to three days.

The prison employees discovered the body only after the inmates began complaining about the foul odor. Initially, the employees believed that the odor was caused by a problem with the sewer.

According to a report filed by the Times of San Diego shortly after Acuna’s body was discovered, “Acuna was sentenced in Los Angeles County for assault with a deadly weapon as a second striker. He served a six-year term beginning in 1984 for robbery with a firearm, and served an 8 year term beginning in 2000 for burglary.”

At the time, the authorities offered very little information because the case was sealed. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Medical Examiner’s office stated that there were no “overt indications of foul play.”

A year later, the medical examiner’s report has been unsealed, making this story newsworthy again, namely because the report contradicts the authorities’ response and message at the time of the event.

A report posted on Patch reveals,

The heavily redacted autopsy report indicated the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office examined Acuna’s body the morning of April 25, 2017.

“He was last seen alive by other inmates when he was playing soccer on April 21, 2017,” the autopsy said. “At that time he had no complaints. He went to his cell and was reportedly not seen by other inmates after that time.”

An inmate reportedly went to Acuna’s cell but was informed by his cellmate, who was not identified, that Acuna had the flu. Acuna “appeared to be on the bottom bunk covered with a blanket,” the autopsy said.

Two days after his cellmate said that Acuna had the flu, inmates began complaining about the odor coming from Acuna’s cell. Assuming that it was a sewage issue, prison employees filed a work order. It was the next day, April 24, that the prison discovered Acuna’s body after the workers had entered his cell.

Even more revealing,

The autopsy went on to say an “investigation revealed the decedent’s cellmate was incarcerated for the death of his father who was found decomposed under a mattress in his home. During an interview with a mental health care professional in the correctional facility the decedent’s cellmate stated he had murdered his former cellmate to get a cell to himself when he was incarcerated in Kern County.”

An examination of Acuna’s body showed he had “a mild to moderate state of decomposition” by the time the autopsy was conducted. It also noted “minor blunt force injury of head and extremities.”

The autopsy report concludes, “Although it is certainly possible that the decedent died of natural causes related to his liver disease, focal bronchitis, and/or (redacted) due to homicidal violence cannot be completely excluded.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has said that an internal investigation is being conducted and that if any wrongdoing is discovered, the responsible parties will be punished.