CLEARFIELD – After a special preliminary hearing Monday morning at the Clearfield County Courthouse, Magisterial District Judge James Hawkins returned all charges to court against a state prison inmate who has been accused in the murder of his cellmate.
Lawrence Edward Peterson Jr., 44, of Easton and an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale, has been charged with criminal homicide; first-degree murder; third-degree murder; aggravated assault; involuntary manslaughter; and recklessly endangering another person.
Sgt. Adam Miles and Corrections Officer Duane Hughes were the first witnesses to testify on behalf of the commonwealth. On Aug. 2, 2013, both responded to Cell 42 on the B Side of the F Unit upon hearing other inmates, alerting that “you need to get up here; he’s killing him.”
Upon arrival at the cell, Miles and Hughes observed inmate, William Keitel, 59, of Shenandoah lying on the floor in front of the cell door with blood coming from his head and face. He was lying immobile on his side in a fetal position, facing the bunk that Peterson was sitting on.
Miles asked Peterson if he would agree to be restrained without resistance. Peterson, he said, indicated yes, at which point he stood up and stomped on Keitel’s face and head area at least two to three more times. Miles ordered Peterson to the back of the cell as he opened the door.
Miles and Hughes restrained Peterson without further incident until Keitel could be removed from the cell. Medical staff responded to the cell within minutes, said Miles, adding Keitel was flown to Altoona General Hospital for treatment of his injuries.
Keitel was treated for traumatic head injuries, skull and rib fractures, lacerations, contusions and abrasions. Neurological exams revealed traumatic brain injury and unresponsiveness; Keitel was declared brain dead on Aug. 11, 2013, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
Corrections Counselor Gina Cogan testified she has received correspondence from inmates at SCI-Houtzdale, including Peterson. The commonwealth presented her with correspondence that was written by Peterson in August of 2013.
In the correspondence, Peterson admitted he attacked Keitel, striking and kicking him repeatedly in his head and face areas. He also admitted to continuing his attack until Keitel “cried for help” and became immobile.
Under cross examination, defense attorney Michael Marshall asked Cogan about the correspondence. She said it wasn’t addressed to her but she’d received correspondence from Peterson over the past six months.
Due to receiving correspondence from Peterson, she recognized the handwriting as that of Peterson. Marshall then asked her to continue reading the correspondence, which she did.
In subsequent paragraphs, Peterson wrote he had confronted his “celly” for saying he was a “child molester” who “deserved to die.” During the confrontation, Peterson claimed Keitel reached for his pocket prompting him to protect himself. Peterson further wrote that any prison employee or person around him knows he’s quiet and doesn’t act out in disrespect.
Clearfield County Coroner Mike Morris testified that Keitel died at 1:58 p.m. Aug. 11, 2013. He found that Keitel died from brain/head trauma with the manner of death being homicide.
Trooper David Patrick of the Clearfield-based state police was offered for cross examination. When asked by Marshall, Patrick said the state police didn’t receive any information on the inmates who alerted prison officials to Cell 42.
When asked, Patrick explained he didn’t interview Peterson. However, on Aug. 2, 2013, he said another trooper arrived at the scene before him. That trooper, Patrick said, attempted to speak with Peterson, who didn’t want to talk.
After the testimony, Marshall asked Hawkins to dismiss the first-degree murder charge. He said the commonwealth didn’t present sufficient witnesses and evidence to show that Peterson intended to kill Keitel.
Marshall said he felt the commonwealth needed to show that Peterson intended to cause more than a severe beating. Shaw countered, saying that it was easier to draw the conclusion that it was just a “simple beating.”
Shaw pointed out that Keitel was lying on the cell floor immobile when Peterson stomped on his head and face two to three more times. “And, oddly enough, he died from severe head trauma.”
Peterson is currently serving a sentence of 40-80 years for robbery with serious bodily injury, according to a previously published press release from the District Attorney’s office.