Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jury Grants $1.7 Million to Man in Prison Fire

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jury Grants $1.7 Million to Man in Prison Fire

Article excerpt

A man who spent nearly 30 minutes trapped in a blazing prison cell at the Menard Correctional Center has won almost $1.7 million from a federal jury in East St. Louis.

Court sources said the verdict Monday in U.S. District Court might be the largest ever returned in a civil rights suit filed by a prisoner, and it certainly is the largest in the metropolitan area.

The man, Arzel Haley, 24, of Chicago, was burned over 50 percent of his body and is permanently disabled, according to his attorney, Michael N. Bledsoe of Chicago. Haley wore swimming trunks and stood before the jury to display his injuries, Bledsoe said Thursday.

"I wouldn't trade places with him for $10 million," he said.

He said Haley's psychotic cellmate set the fire April 3, 1989. The man had told guards that he would burn down the prison if they didn't respond to his repeated demands to relocate him or Haley. The cellmate, Kim Wilborn, 34, of Chicago, died in the fire.

The suit names three prison guards as defendants, charging that they knew of Wilborn's threats and the danger to Haley but failed to take any action to protect him. The suit charged civil rights violations, not negligence.

The jury in the courtroom of U.S. Magistrate Gerald B. Cohn heard 11 days of testimony and deliberated for two days before awarding Haley $1,675,000, plus attorneys' fees.

Bledsoe said that the state and the Department of Corrections could not be sued for the actions of the guards but that the state would be responsible for paying the damages.

Brian Fairchild, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said Thursday that the verdict would be appealed. He had no other comment.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office, which defended the guards in court, could not be reached for comment.

Haley was 19 and had just started serving a six-year sentence for auto theft when Wilborn was moved into his cell. …

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