It was a kiss of death.
Anthony Powell was serving a life sentence at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem when prison officials said he "died unexpectedly,'' alone in his cell on June 2, 2016. At age 41, he was found dead during a routine security check, the state Corrections Department said at the time.
Further investigation revealed that Powell's girlfriend, during a privileged contact visit with Powell, had given him a long kiss.
With their lips locked, the girlfriend, Melissa Blair, passed methamphetamine packaged in multi-colored balloons to Powell, investigators discovered.
When Powell returned to his cell after the visit, the balloons ruptured in his stomach and he died from methamphetamine toxicity, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said.
An autopsy revealed about seven balloons in his stomach, including two that ruptured. A drug test found 4.6 grams of methamphetamine recovered from the intact balloons in Powell's stomach, according to court testimony.
The deadly kiss led to federal charges and guilty pleas for Blair and four others.
All were indicted under the federal Len Bias law, accused of delivering a drug that caused someone's death. That charge carries a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum life sentence.
Under negotiated agreements, they pleaded to a lesser charge, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
Blair, 46, Timothy Lashawn Allen, 37, Dwayne Taylor McClinton, 39, Christine Yvette Thompson, 35, and McKeever W. Thompson, 41, didn't admit that they caused the inmate's death, but all admitted that a death resulted from their conspiracy.
Their prison terms are expected to range from five years and three months for McClinton, who arranged for the smuggling of the drugs into prison, to three years and one month for McKeever Thompson, who made a phone call from prison in support of the conspiracy.
McClinton had been an inmate with Powell and McKeever Thompson at the Salem prison.
McClinton asked Thompson if he would help find a way to smuggle a package into the prison, Gabriel said.
McKeever Thompson contacted his sister, Christine Thompson. She admitted in court that she got the methamphetamine from an unknown source after talking with her brother.
In a Dec. 12, 2015, recorded phone call from the state prison between McKeever Thompson and his sister, he asked, "Did homeboy come back to you? Did you do that thing?'' She told him, "Yeah.''
"OK, we'll have somebody come and pick it up from you,'' McKeever Thompson replied. "I love you, sis.''
In March 2016, Allen, McClinton's cousin, picked up the methamphetamine from Christine Thompson.
Allen kept the drug in his freezer for a couple of months before passing it to Blair to deliver to her boyfriend in prison, according to the prosecutor.
Powell was serving a life sentence for aggravated murder in the 1995 stabbing death of his mother-in-law.
McKeever Thompson, already serving a sentence for an unrelated robbery and attempted murder that will end in January 2023, is expected to have another three years and one month added to his term.
McClinton, in custody on an unrelated manslaughter conviction until January 2030, is expected to face another five years and three months in prison for the drug conspiracy.
Blair and Allen each are expected to face sentences of two years and six months.
Prison officials say contraband smuggled to inmates through kisses from visitors is a problem.
"This happens more often than anyone would like,'' said Assistant Inspector General Melissa Nofziger for the state Corrections Department.
Most inmates can have privileged contact visits, which allow a brief hug and kiss at the beginning and end of each visit, hand holding and holding children. Visitors also are screened by a metal detector before they enter the prison.
When visiting time is over, everyone stands up and hugs and kisses, "making it next to impossible to see everyone,'' Nofziger said.
"So some kisses end up being more than brief ... and contraband is transferred that way.''
Corrections Inspector General Craig Prins said studies show the visits help inmates keep connected to their loved ones, which reduces the likelihood of them reoffending.
Officers try to watch out for any problems during the visits and review videos of visits and track inmates' calls, he said. In this case, the corrections department's Inspector General's office worked together with the Oregon State Police, the Drug Enforcement Administration and federal prosecutors to make the arrests.
"We'd like to use this prosecution to communicate to community members to cooperate with us to keep their loved ones safe,'' Prins said. "We want to maintain contact visits but we want to maintain the safety of adults in our custody.''
Date Posted: Friday, October 13th, 2017 , Total Page Views: 6400
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