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July 1, 1998 

Prisoner strangled at CMF

Inmate consented to living with man accused in killing

By Roxanne Stites/Staff Writer 

A psychiatric inmate, found slashed and strangled in his Vacaville prison cell Monday, had signed a consent form just days ago to be housed with the inmate suspected of his murder, officials reported. 

Both inmates were considered violent and dangerous and had been placed in administrative segregation. But limited housing has forced the prison to double-bunk many inmates, even those in maximum-level custody, explained prison spokeswoman Terri McDonald. 

California Medical Facility spokeswoman Sgt. Bea Torres said suspect James Diesso, 25, and Jeffrey Ford, 36, were transferred to the third floor psychiatric cell on Friday - three days before Ford was found brutally beaten early Monday morning. 

The effeminate prisoner had been strangled and had suffered blunt trauma to his face and lashings to his back and legs. An autopsy indicated the cause of death to be strangulation and blunt trauma. 

"The cell does reflect that a violent incident did occur,'' Torres said. 

Diesso - who has a prominent neck tattoo indicating he is a Nazi Low Rider or member of a white street gang - had no noticeable injuries. Officials would not say whether a struggle occurred. 

Torres said prison staff knew of no problems between the inmates and wouldn't speculate on a motive. 

A correctional officers' log book, which would indicate when Ford was last seen alive or whether officers had documented any bizarre behavior, was confiscated by investigators, Torres said. 

The District Attorney's Office is withholding comment pending an investigation. Diesso is now being housed in isolation. 

Torres said a correctional sergeant found Ford dead on the lower bunk at 3:50 a.m. Monday. He typically sleeps on the upper bunk, officials said. Diesso was standing near the cell door. 

Torres would not release any other details about the condition of the room and she had not reported finding any weapon by Tuesday. 

Torres said four hours after Diesso was detained, he reportedly battered a male officer in the clinic, and injured a female officer who tried to restrain him. The officers received minor injuries. 

Both inmates have a history of violence within the prison system, which officials say is not uncommon among psychiatric patients. 

''Inmates (in the outpatient psychiatric unit) are unpredictable and have poor management control. Many need medication," said McDonald. 

Diesso was serving a seven-year term after being convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in San Bernardino County in January 1992. 

Since being imprisoned, he has been accused of assaulting a staff member, possessing a weapon and assaulting inmates. 

Ford, who was sentenced to six years for petty theft with unknown prior offenses in May 1996, has been accused of assault on a peace officer, fighting with inmates and possession of alcohol, according to prison officials. 

CMF officials said the two were allowed to double-bunk after a review of their central file indicated there were no problems between them and they were not members of rival gangs. They also agreed to the arrangement, which is a requirement. 

The last homicide at the Vacaville prison occurred in 1994. 



July 9, 1998 

No answers for family of dead inmate

Members of the prison's citizen's panel did stay after the warden left to console victim's mother and sister. 

By Roxanne Stites/Staff Writer 

Following an impassioned appearance by family members of an inmate recently slain at a Vacaville prison, the president of the Citizen's Advisory Committee said he will be calling for a special meeting with the warden. 

Modesto resident Eva Ford and her daughter, Vicki, traveled 90 miles to attend the Wednesday evening meeting, held every other month to discuss various prison issues. 

Ford did it, she said, because she has not received one phone call from prison administrators, and has received nearly all of her information about her son's death from the media. 

CMF officials said they have referred all calls to Deputy District Attorney Jack Harris, though Eva Ford said not once has she gotten through to anybody who told her who to contact. 

"All they had to do was pick up the phone. One phone call," she said. "Even if they can't tell me anything, at least . . . acknowledge me.'' 

Jeffrey Ray Ford, 36, was found brutally beaten and strangled in his cell June 29. Bloody handprints were reportedly left all over the walls, as were a pentagram symbol and the word ''Help." 

Ford's cellmate of just three days, 25-year-old James Diesso, was detained but has not been charged. 

"It just seems strange that this person hasn't been charged," Eva Ford said. ''There was only one other person in there, and obviously it wasn't a suicide." 

Warden Ana Ramirez-Palmer refused to answer any questions, and said the District Attorney's Office is the only agency that will give Eva Ford any answers. "We are fully committed to seeing this prosecuted. I'm not going to do anything to (jeopardize that)." 

While discussion between Ford's family and the board was minimal during the meeting, several board members excluding Ramirez-Palmer stayed after to get more information and console them. 

It was then when a teary-eyed Eva Ford listed several questions she fears will never be answered. Why was her son - who is Hispanic and considered effeminate - housed with an inmate who has large tattoos on his neck indicating he is a Nazi Low Rider, which is a white street gang? 

If prison personnel reviews inmates' files before housing them together, why would they put him in a cell with an inmate who admitted to stabbing another effeminate inmate 17 times? 

CMF Sgt. Bea Torres, who is the warden's administrative assistant, met with the family after the meeting. She promised to tell them all she could without harming the case. 

"I think you were heard and I'm sure somebody will be calling you," said Fairfield attorney Hendrick Crowell, who is a board member. ''It (the killing) shouldn't have happened No. 1, but this (lack of communication) just adds insult to injury. I'm not here to stand behind policies that aren't right,'' he added. 

Board president C.C. Yin said he plans to put the issue on the agenda for the next meeting - scheduled Sept. 2 - but in the meantime will meet with Ramirez-Palmer to find out what policy is regarding death and investigation notification. 

Eva Ford said a prison doctor informed her of her son's death, but the doctor said it wasn't his responsibility. 

''That's no way to treat a human being,'' said board member Valerie Richards. 
 



March 6, 1999 

Prison group wants CMF inmate moved

By Mike Adamick/Staff Writer 

A statewide prisoners' rights group wants a California Medical Facility inmate moved to Nevada, claiming abuse by the Vacaville prison and a "corrupt" California corrections system. 

The group claims prison officials erred last June when they housed an effeminate inmate with a man who the year before had stabbed another inmate 17 times. The other inmate, also effeminate, survived - but Jeffrey R. Ford, 36, was found dead on June 29. 

State Department of Corrections internal affairs investigators are examining claims that CMF staff acted improperly when they double-celled Ford and James A. Diesso, the inmate charged with Ford's homicide, according to CMF Warden Ana Ramirez-Palmer. 

Now UNION - United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect - wants Diesso moved out of Vacaville, asserting the man who has been in and out of correctional facilities since age 12 has been warped by years of abuse. 

"He's just the product of a corrupt system," said B. Cayenne Bird, executive director of the Bakersfield-based group. "It's very clear that the death of inmate Ford happened because of major mismanagement." 

Ramirez-Palmer said Diesso would not be moved. He will face trial in Solano County. 

According to a prison psychiatric team, CMF officials were aware that double-celling violent inmates could result in fatalities. 

An affidavit from Diesso, 25, claims that three weeks prior to Ford's death, another cellmate of Diesso asked to be moved because he feared for his life. 

Diesso says he was then housed from June 8-19 in a suicide watch unit where he claims unsanitary conditions made him sick. The large man with tattoos depicting hate gangs claims he was forced to sleep naked on a cold floor with no sheets or bed. Ramirez-Palmer said that is done to prevent an inmate from hanging himself. 

On June 27, Diesso requested another cellmate because "his cellmate was old and could not handle being in the cell with him," according to a CMF report. 

On June 28, Diesso and Ford were placed in the same cell in the prison's highest security unit. 

A CMF memo said both inmates signed forms agreeing to be housed together in the psychiatric administrative segregation unit. The memo said Diesso claimed he and Ford got along, and Ford confirmed that with officers. 

A day after being put in the same cell, Ford was found strangled, stabbed, cut and beaten. Diesso reportedly used Ford's blood to mark handprints on the walls and scrawl a pentagram - a sign of devil worship. 

The CMF warden said there is not enough money or room to single-cell inmates. 

"It's not a good idea to double-cell inmates, period, but as is happening in other states, we just can't build enough prisons," said Ramirez-Palmer. "It's not ideal, but we have been double-celling for years." 

She asserted that both inmates had been housed together without incident in the past. 

Shortly after the homicide, Diesso apparently swallowed a razor blade. Solano County Superior Court ordered CMF to place him in five-point restraints until the razor blade passed naturally from his body. 

UNION, formed in August and claiming 4,300 members, has started a letter-writing campaign to local and state prison officials, news media and the state government. 

The group's Internet web site asks members to write letters, attend demonstrations and recruit more members. For those who cannot attend demonstrations, the group says it will pay homeless people $30 to take their place. 

Diesso's mother, Margie Jump, recounts her son's life as nothing but years of abuse by the corrections system. 

At 12, Diesso was frequently truant from school and took a car for a joyride. That led to his first incarceration at a juvenile hall near Mission Hills. At 16, after his father died, Diesso was remanded to a youth authority for stealing cars. 

While there, Diesso stabbed another inmate and was sent to California State Prison at Pelican Bay. From Pelican Bay, he was transferred to California State Prison at Lancaster. 

In 1992, Diesso was sentenced to seven years for assault with a deadly weapon in the case. He was then sent to CMF. 

After a Jan. 20, 1997, incident in which Diesso stabbed an effeminate prisoner 17 times, he was sent to Atascadero State Hospital before pleading no contest and was then sent back to CMF, where he remains. 

Diesso could get life in prison if convicted of a "third strike" offense, but Deputy District Attorney Jack Harris said the decision is pending more information from a San Bernardino County youth authority. 

A preliminary hearing for Diesso on charges of murder is scheduled on April 12 in Solano County Superior Court. 

UNION leader Bird said she will continue attempts to have Diesso moved to Nevada where he would be closer to his mother, who lives near Reno. Jump said she has had more contact with her son in recent weeks. She claims that is because of UNION pressure. 

"Our most basic freedoms are stripped when you enter a system that is corrupt," said Bird. "The only way to reclaim those freedoms is to get involved." 
 



April 29, 1999 

Inmate death sparks inquiry

By Mike Adamick/Staff Writer 

California Medical Facility is under fire for what a statewide prisoners' rights group is labeling inmate abuse by a refusal to grant medical treatment. 

A day after being denied medical care at a CMF clinic, Harvey Cuffs, 47, was found lying in his Unit 4 cell at 10:05 a.m. April 15, according to sources. 

"We are investigating that allegation," said CMF spokeswoman Lt. Terry McDonald. "Inmates are not denied medical treatment. Inmate Cuffs was receiving on-going care." 

In fact, said McDonald, he was scheduled for a medical appointment the day he died. 

Cuffs was taken to the prison's emergency room where he was pronounced dead at 10:35 a.m., said McDonald. The Solano County Coroner's Office said he died of cirrhosis of the liver. 

A statewide inmate rights group, UNION (United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect), says that Cuffs should have been given immediate treatment when he requested it the day before he died. 

At 2 p.m. April 14, Cuffs entered the Unit 4 medical clinic and told a medical technical assistant that he was feeling sick and had been vomiting blood, according to Lucinda Gunn, a UNION member whose husband was in the medical clinic at the time. 

Gunn's husband, an inmate, said Cuffs was given a sick call slip and told he would be treated later. 

Cuffs was found by correctional officers in his cell at 10:05 a.m., said McDonald. Cuffs was lying on the cell near the door in what appeared to be blood, she said. 

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was started immediately and Cuffs was taken to the emergency room where he was pronounced dead. 

UNION members said Cuffs should have been found earlier in the morning during routine cell checks. McDonald said officers checking the cells did not notice anything out of the ordinary. Cuffs was not lying on the floor during previous checks, she said. 

This is not the first time UNION has targeted the Vacaville prison with claims of abuse. The group said CMF erred when it double-celled inmates James Diesso and Jeffrey Ford last year. Ford was found dead and Diesso has been charged with his murder. 

UNION, which claims to have more than 4,000 members, wants Diesso moved out of Vacaville, saying he is not getting the medical care he needs. CMF officials said Diesso would not be moved. 



June 23, 2000 

CMF conduct, staff under microscope

Prison watchdog group, officials exchange views 

By Robin Miller/City Editor 

Treatment of inmates at California Medical Facility in Vacaville was the main topic of discussion Wednesday during a meeting between members of a prison watchdog group and CMF management. 

According to members of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect (UNION), the five-hour closed-door meeting focused on the level of care given to ill inmates as well as punishment practices and safety concerns. 

"It was an intense, often tedious and often emotional interaction which seemed to bring a number of issues around existing policies into the light," said B. Cayenne Bird, UNION director. But she added that the meeting was just the "tip of the iceberg" with regard to her group's concerns. 

Specifically, Bird and UNION members, including the mother of inmate James Diesso, are concerned about how the prisons handle mentally ill patients. 

Diesso is awaiting trial on charges of murder in connection with the death of his cellmate, Jeffrey Ray Ford, who was found strangled and beaten to death in 1998. UNION claims Diesso is mentally ill and has been mistreated by prison staff. 

"A confusion exists among state employees about where the line is drawn to determine which inmates are behavior problems and which are mentally ill," Bird claimed. "From the numerous complaints the UNION has received, there is no doubt in my mind that the mentally ill are frequently punished just for being mentally ill and acting out their disease." 

CMF public information officer Lt. Lucky Cruz said the meeting with the group "presented issues and concerns" but that the administration wants to see what documentation of the alleged abuses the group has. 

"Once they produce documentation, we can look into it," he said. 

Funding to provide more staffing at the prison is an issue of concern to both sides. 

"Cost of health care, staff shortages and a burgeoning strain on too large a prison population are the root of the majority of the problems," Bird said. 

She added that "lawmakers simply will not appropriate adequate money for the necessary care and feeding of prisoners." 

Cruz said the prison "can always use more staff" but pointed out that such decisions rest with those who control the purse strings. 

For Bird, the meeting was an important first step toward assuring proper treatment of inmates, she said. 

"I cannot judge success of this meeting on anything but the eventual outcome to our specific complaints and we are still at the stage of furnishing documentation and evidence to prove the practices do exist," she said. 



July 29, 1999 

Inmate faces trial in CMF homicide

By Sean Gillespie/Staff Writer 

James Diesso must stand trial in connection with the 1998 beating and strangulation of Jeffrey Ray Ford, his cellmate at the California Medical Facility, Judge Harry Kinnicutt ordered Wednesday. 

Diesso, a 26-year-old who is serving two seven-year sentences for a 1992 assault in San Bernardino County and a 1997 stabbing of a fellow inmate, is charged with murder, two counts of assault and possession of a razor blade while incarcerated. 

Four correctional officers employed at CMF on the day of the killing, June 29, 1998, testified against Diesso in Wednesday's preliminary hearing in Solano County Superior Court. 

Ford, who was 36 and serving a six-year sentence for petty theft when he died, was housed with Diesso in Cell I-308 of the psychiatric wing for the three days leading up to his death. 

Officer Michael Hancock told Judge Kinnicutt that Diesso caught his attention about 3:30 a.m. on June 29 with pounding and unintelligible yelling in his cell. When Hancock responded to the commotion, according to his testimony, he found Ford unconscious, lying half on the bed and half on the floor. 

Hancock said he didn't notice anything wrong during his twice-hourly security checks beginning when he started his shift at 10:45 p.m. He also said he was the only person with a key to the cell, insisting that nobody other than Diesso and Ford could be in there. 

Dr. Susan Hogan, a forensic pathologist, said the cause of Ford's death was strangulation with a rope-like instrument and a severe beating to the head. 

Correctional investigator James Rubio said he visited the cell later that morning, and he saw "satanic or witchcraft symbols on the wall that appeared to be smeared in blood." 

Rubio also said other inmates claimed Diesso spoke before the killing about different plans to kill Ford and three others, including the scenario of smearing blood. 

Diesso allegedly requested, in writing from another inmate, tobacco and a razor blade, which was lowered to him from a cell above by string. 

"He wanted to use the razor blade to kill somebody . . . so he could claim insanity and not be transferred from CMF," Rubio said. 

During an evaluation in the prison clinic after the killing, Diesso knocked an officer unconscious, correctional officers testified. They had removed Diesso's handcuffs to examine the blood on his hands. 

Diesso will be arraigned in Kinnicutt's courtroom at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 19. 


September 28, 2000 
 

Prison officials investigate inmate 

By Robin Miller/City Editor 

A former California Medical Facility inmate 
charged with killing his cellmate two years ago is under investigation by 
state prison officials after they found him in possession of confidential 
information about his case.James Diesso, 27, is charged with murder in 
connection with the 1998 beating and strangulation of his cellmate Jeffrey 
Ray Ford. He has been housed at California State Prison, Sacramento, for 
several weeks. 

Last week, Sacramento prison officials put the unit where Diesso is housed on lockdown after officers discovered he had documents "with potentially sensitive information" in his cell, according to Billy Mayfield, public information officer at the prison."Currently, an investigation is 
going on about whether or not the information is of a sensitive nature and an 
investigation into whether or not he has distributed that information to 
other inmates," Mayfield said.Solano County Deputy District Attorney Jack 
Harris, who is prosecuting Diesso on the local murder charge, confirmed that 
Diesso was found with information that included the names, Social Security 
numbers and birth dates of a handful of CMF officers who were on duty at the time of Ford's death. 

Harris said he was contacted by prison investigators seeking to know what information he has shared with Diesso's defense 
attorneys."I showed them everything I (gave) to (the attorneys) and there was 
some information I should have blacked out," Harris said of the documents he 
has gathered in the case. "But I understand he had more than these 
reports. 

"According to one prison source, Diesso had information from Internal 
Affairs reports on the Ford killing.At the time of the killing, prison 
officials came under fire for housing Ford, who has been described as 
effeminate, with Diesso, who had previously stabbed an effeminate 
inmate. 

Diesso's attorney, Carl Spieckerman, could not be reached for comment 
but he has been arguing in court that he should have access to investigative 
records generated at the local prison following Ford's death.Diesso's trial 
is slated to begin in December. 



February 28, 2001 

Trial delayed again for murder suspect

By Robin Miller/City Editor 

Delays in the release of prison records to attorneys have caused yet another holdup in the trial of a former California Medical Facility inmate charged with murder in connection with the death of his cellmate three years ago. 

James Diesso faces a murder charge in connection with the 1998 beating and strangulation death of inmate Jeffrey Ray Ford. 

In Solano County Superior Court Judge Harry Kinnicutt's courtroom Tuesday, Diesso's attorney, Carl Spieckerman, said his investigators and a doctor assigned to examine Diesso's mental health have had difficulty obtaining needed prison records from the California Department of Corrections. 

Deputy District Attorney Jack Harris joined in the request for a delay in the case, saying he's had difficulty getting witnesses scheduled for the trial that was slated to begin March 7. 

Kinnicutt granted a delay in the trial until June 20 but not without first issuing some harsh warnings to both attorneys. 

"Keep your calendars clear - no excuses," he warned. "This case has been continued too many times." 

Kinnicutt further warned the attorneys that the next time they announce verbal requests in court instead of in writing, he will "sanction" them. "Do you understand?" he asked, as both attorneys agreed. 

Diesso is slated to be back in court June 4 for a trial readiness conference. 

The delay is the latest in a string of postponements of hearings in the case. Early on, Diesso caused delays with self-mutilation episodes. Last week, a brief hearing was delayed after attorneys learned that he had attempted suicide in his cell at California State Prison, Sacramento, where he has been housed for some time. Diesso was found in his cell with a sheet around his neck, after having tried to hang himself. 

Diesso has pleaded innocent and innocent by reason of insanity. His case has drawn outcry from inmate advocacy groups who have criticized prison officials for the decision to put Diesso and Ford together in the first place. Diesso is serving seven years for assault with a deadly weapon and had an extensive history of violent assaults on guards and other inmates while in prison. Ford, 36, was serving time for petty theft when he died. 

If convicted, Diesso faces a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. 



June 29, 2001 

Sanity and safety

CMF verdict raises crucial question

The trial of a mentally disturbed former Vacaville prison inmate who brutally murdered his cellmate raises some serious questions about what constitutes criminal sanity and whether the penal system protects prisoners from harm. 

James Diesso was found guilty of murder in connection with the 1998 death of California Medical Facility inmate Jeffrey Ray Ford. The jury ruled Mr. Diesso was sane. 

The convicted killer has a long history of bizarre behavior. He spent time in the Atascadero state mental hospital, he lived in the Vacaville psychiatric administrative segregation unit at CMF, he was medicated for years as a mentally ill person. He once swallowed a razor blade and once ate the crushed lenses of his eyeglasses in two suicide attempts. 

But a jury found there was sufficient evidence that the bloody execution of his cellmate was a premeditate act and Mr. Diesso was sane at the time. The key evidence, his prosecutor says, was the planning of the crime. 

Three inmates testified that Mr. Diesso talked of targeting his cellmate, ostensibly because he was a homosexual. "And that was corroborated by statements overheard by an officer," the prosecutor said this week. 

All of this begs the question of why Mr. Diesso was not segregated further in isolation, kept away from his target. Either the prison officials thought the comments were threats of a madman, in which case their point of view of Mr. Diesso's sanity should have been admitted as evidence, or they failed to adequately protect another inmate from harm they knew was possible. 

In either case, the verdict in this case is troubling. 



July 22, 2001 

Sentence ahead for CMF killer

By Darryl Richardson/Reporter Staff 

Almost one month after he turned over a table in a Solano County courtroom following his murder conviction, James Diesso returns to court Monday to find out his sentence. Regardless of his fate, Diesso will go down as an influential figure in the prison reform movement in California. 

Diesso was convicted last month in the 1998 murder of Jeffrey Ford, his cellmate at California Medical Facility. Ford was strangled and beaten during the attack. Diesso reportedly dipped his hands in Ford's blood after the murder and drew symbols on the cell walls. 

Both Diesso and Ford had lengthy histories of violence and were housed in CMF's highest security area. In addition, Diesso had been diagnosed with several mental disorders, stemming in part from a childhood brain injury. However, jurors in the case agreed with the prosecution, finding Diesso sane at the time of the incident. 

Due to overcrowded conditions at CMF at the time of the incident, the two men were placed in the same cell, something both men agreed to, according to trial testimony from CMF officers. 

Other CMF inmates who were previously housed with Diesso testified Diesso made a number of comments concerning killing other inmates prior to Ford's death. 

The Diesso case raised awareness of many prison-related issues, including the double-celling of inmates and the treatment of inmates with mental disorders, 

See CMF killer, Back Page within the local community. But the case has also had a statewide impact. 

UNION, United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect, a grass-roots organization founded in 1998 by B. Cayenne Bird of Sacramento, used the Diesso case as a rallying point for its attempts to change the California prison system. 

"People have a soft spot for that case," Cayenne Bird said. "Mental illness impacts millions of people." 

Bird's organization consists of nearly 5,000 volunteer members, many of whom have family members in the California prison system. 

"These are really the poorest of the poor," Cayenne Bird said. 

"They are mostly mothers who have lost their children to the prisons or wives who have lost their husbands." 

The limited resources available to Cayenne Bird and the other UNION members makes their attempts at reform a little more difficult. 

"We're up against some powerful unions," Cayenne Bird said. "They are able to apply a lot of muscle and pressure to the legislature. It's a real David and Goliath situation." 

UNION has achieved success in informing the public about prison issues they may not have ordinarily been aware of. Many members have taken it upon themselves to send letters to newspapers around the state, including The Reporter, denouncing prison conditions and commenting on court cases and decisions. 

Members have also attended and testified before legislative hearings concerning prison issues. However, reaction in Sacramento to the group has been mixed. 

"I think Cayenne has been very good at collecting information from families and giving them something to rally around," said Gwynnae Byrd, principal consultant for Senate Majority Leader Richard Polanco, who chairs the Joint Committee on Prison Construction and Operations. "But sometimes I get frustrated with her inability to understand the political process. She needs to see the realities of what can and can't be done here." 

But legislators do realize more can and should be done to improve prison conditions around the state for the mentally ill. 

"It's a very tricky issue," says Gwynnae Byrd, who deals with prison issues for Polanco. "Unfortunately CDC has become the dumping ground for the mentally ill who commit crimes. Mental health agencies can choose who they take, but the prisons can't do that." 

According to UNION, Diesso is a perfect example of the problems facing the mentally ill in prisons. 

His family says Diesso can act normally when he receives his medication. But he quickly becomes unstable when his medications are late or missing. 

"I'm sure they had James heavily medicated during his trial," Cayenne Bird charged, referring to Diesso's placid behavior during the arguments in the trial. "They probably didn't give him his meds before the last day though, to show him at his worst." 

While unable to comment on the specifics of the Diesso case, Gwynnae Byrd admits CDC is not always able to deal with the mentally ill inmates it houses. 

"The whole state system is ill-equipped to deal with this issue," she said. "It's not going to go away and it's very sad. These are the undesirables in society and it's appeasing to many people to look the other way. But they are human beings and we have to deal with it. We have a lot of (legislators) trying to figure out what to do, but there are no good answers." 

The issue of double celling inmates is another of UNION's major complaints about the Diesso case. CMF officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the current situation at the institution, but Cayenne Bird alleges little has changed. 

"We know there has been little change at CMF because the complaints which are registered with us have increased, not decreased," she said. 

Gwynnae Byrd agrees double celling is an issue with which the legislature is having problems. 

"Double celling of inmates is not something that is desired," she said. "But we have too many prisoners for the amount of space we have. Alternative programs, like Prop. 36, might allow us to have more space, but money and staffing levels are also problems." 

Proposition 36, approved by voters last year, mandates that drug offenders be given treatment, rather than prison sentences. 

UNION saves some of its most pointed remarks for the actual conduct of Diesso's trial, in particular the jury's determination of Diesso's sanity. 

"The jury was led to its decision by (Judge Harry) Kinnicutt," Cayenne Bird said. "They didn't quite know what to do and were persuaded by the rulings and actions of the court. There is no way a sane sentence is justifiable." 

Whatever sentence Diesso receives Monday morning, it will not signal the end of the fight over inmate conditions at CMF and other facilities around the state. 

Cayenne Bird vows to continue the battle wherever it leads. 

"We've managed to do a lot with a little," she said. "I believe if we keep at it, more people will see our side and will get involved." 

Darryl Richardson can be reached at  mailto:%20courts@thereporter.com



July 24, 2001 

Quiet Diesso back in prison

By Darryl Richardson/Reporter Staff 

After a trial filled with graphic testimony and emotional outbursts, James Diesso's sentencing on Monday was a quiet, subdued affair. 

Diesso, surrounded by six Department of Corrections officers, stood silently as Judge Harry Kinnicutt sentenced him to 125 years to life in prison, along with 10 more years added on because of Diesso's prior convictions. 

Diesso was convicted last month of murdering Jeffrey Ford inside the California Medical Facility in 1998. The jury ruled Diesso was sane at the time of the killing. He was also convicted of possessing a deadly weapon inside a correctional facility and battery on a correctional officer - both events occurring in the hours immediately after Ford's death. 

Kinnicutt sentenced Diesso to 75 years to life on the murder charge, with the other two counts both resulting in 25 years to life. The terms will run consecutively since the events took place at different times. Diesso must first complete his present prison term before starting this new sentence. 

Members of UNION (United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect) used the Diesso case as a rallying point for their calls for reforming the methods by which the mentally ill are treated in California prisons. Three doctors testified during the trial that Diesso was suffering from one or more mental disorders. Despite a vigorous letter writing campaign on Diesso's behalf, no members of the organization were in attendance during the sentencing. 

Diesso's trial climaxed with his emotional outburst following the guilty verdict. Despite being shackled with handcuffs attached to a waist chain and having four CDC officers nearby, Diesso overturned the defense table and verbally threatened the jury and others in the courtroom. His mother, Margie Jump, also began yelling at the same time, resulting in her banishment from the courtroom. Additional corrections officers were present at Monday's sentencing and Diesso was never more than five feet from the doorway taking him back to the prisoner holding area. 

Carl Spieckerman, Diesso's attorney, said the paperwork for Diesso's appeal has been signed and will be filed soon. The appeals court will then assign a new attorney to conduct the appeal. 

Despite being barred from Monday's hearing because of a previous emotional outburst, Jump said she intends to continue to fight for her son. 

"I believe there are some issues that weren't brought up during the trial," she said. "We will not stop fighting." 

Darryl Richardson can be reached at  mailto:courts@thereporter.com
 



 
 

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