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1 jail cell. 2 inmates. 1 is killed. No one charged?
TRIBUNE EXCLUSIVE

Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Gary Marx

John Lambert dropped out of high school in his freshman year, battled addictions to cocaine and alcohol, and was in and out of treatment centers as well as court for minor scrapes with the law.

Last year, when he was locked up in Cook County Jail for possessing cocaine and violating probation, his frustrated family chose not to bail him out, thinking he was better off where he could not abuse drugs or alcohol.

That proved to be a fatal mistake.

On June 26, 2007, his 25th birthday, Lambert was found unconscious in his cell with massive head injuries. After he died 12 days later, a pathologist concluded that Lambert had been beaten to death.

"It's a homicide," Mitra Kalelkar, the deputy chief medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, said in an interview.

The investigation would seem to be straightforward—Lambert had a lone cellmate the night of his fatal injuries.

But the cellmate, David Jamison, told investigators that Lambert sustained the injuries when he fell from the top bunk in their cell.

More than a year later, no one has been charged in his slaying.

"You know what it feels like to know that if you could have bailed him out, he would be alive?" said Lambert's sister, Heather Brenka, her voice cracking with emotion.

Lambert's death was among numerous examples cited in a scathing Justice Department report this summer that found violence rampant at the nation's largest jail. The investigation also ripped the jail for dispensing medical care so substandard that some inmates died needlessly.

A Tribune investigation raises questions why Lambert was incarcerated in Division IX, one of the jail's maximum-security divisions, with a dangerous cellmate during his 22-day stint there.

In addition, jail paramedics did not respond to emergency calls from guards for help after Lambert was found unconscious in the cell. An hour and half passed before he was taken to a hospital and later underwent brain surgery.

The delay in treatment could have cost Lambert his life because he died of a blood hemorrhage that cut off oxygen to his brain, a condition treatable by prompt surgery, one medical expert said.

"Time is of the essence in this condition, perhaps more than any other," said Dr. Gail Rosseau, a Chicago neurosurgeon and spokeswoman for the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

Watchdog wants inquiry

Charles Fasano, a veteran official with the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, criticized Lambert's placement in maximum security and called for an inquiry into why the jail paramedics were unavailable to treat him.

"Even with a shortage of nurses and paramedics [from budget cuts], there should be no excuse for the failure of a health-care professional to respond to an emergency," Fasano said.

The Cook County Bureau of Health Services, which is responsible for medical care at the jail, declined to comment because of a pending federal lawsuit by Lambert's family. The state's attorney's office also declined to comment.

Penny Mateck, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, which runs the jail, defended housing Lambert in Division IX as well as the thoroughness of the investigation by sheriff's police. Investigators worked weeks on the case, she said, but prosecutors declined to file charges.

But a confidential sheriff's police investigative report obtained by the Tribune indicated that officers conducted most of the interviews of inmates and jail staff in just one day. In addition, investigators did not appear to conduct any further interviews after the medical examiner's office concluded in September 2007 that Lambert had been killed, the report shows.

Mateck also said Lambert's arrest for felony drug possession as well as his criminal history, including an active order of protection obtained by his father, justified placing him in maximum security.

But Lambert had never been convicted of a serious enough crime to do time in state prison, according to records and interviews.

Cellmate's past

In contrast, Jamison has spent most of his adult life in custody. In 2001, Jamison was sentenced to natural life in prison for his second rape conviction, but the conviction was overturned in 2004. At 55 he remains in County Jail awaiting retrial.

Jamison's lawyer, Daniel Gallagher, declined to comment, and Jamison did not respond to letters sent to the jail seeking comment.

While in the jail, Jamison developed a reputation for fighting with cellmates, according to interviews with inmates and the confidential investigative report.

Jamison allegedly clashed with Lambert just days before Lambert's fatal injuries. An inmate, Donzell Thomas, who was convicted of armed robbery in July, told the Tribune that he watched Jamison confront Lambert after Lambert lent Jamison's book to another inmate.

"How the [expletive] are you going to give my [expletive] to someone else?" Thomas quoted Jamison as yelling at Lambert. Lambert apologized, Thomas said.

In an interview, Lambert's friend LeeAnn Phillips said he told her by telephone a day before he was found unconscious that his cellmate "was a real jerk and he didn't get along with him."

On the night of the alleged beating, Thomas and a second inmate overheard Lambert quarreling with Jamison, though at different times that night, according to the investigative report.

2nd inmate's account

Vernon Thompson, an inmate in the cell next to Lambert and Jamison, said he heard the two cellmates quarreling shortly after lockdown at 9 p.m. Thompson, now in state prison for a rape conviction, told investigators that Jamison was "rubbing it in because Lambert was going to lose his kids because of his case."

Thompson said he banged a plastic chair inside his cell to get the two inmates' attention. Jamison shouted back at Thompson to "mind his own business," Thompson told investigators. After he fell asleep, Thompson said, he did not see or hear anything unusual. But the next day another inmate said Thompson told him, "That man about beat that boy to death," the investigative report said.

Thomas told investigators that he heard Jamison and Lambert quarreling over a light about 2:15 a.m. He also said he overheard Thompson tell the two inmates to cut it out. A few minutes later, Thomas heard "a loud bang from what he thought was one of the cell doors being hit very hard," the investigative report said.

Thomas told investigators that Jamison also made incriminating remarks to him a few hours after Lambert was found with a fractured skull and massive bleeding to the brain.

"Thomas states that Jamison told him he was tired of" Lambert's behavior, the investigative report said. "Thomas states that he asked Jamison what he did, at which time Jamison told him, 'I cleaned him up.' "

Jamison's side

In an interview with sheriff's investigators, Jamison said Lambert complained of headaches during the night and kept throwing up. Jamison said that at one point Lambert fell from the top bunk onto the floor.

According to Jamison, Lambert also complained about losing custody of his children. When Jamison tried to engage him, Lambert told him to shut up, he said.

"Jamison states that Lambert was loud enough where other people on the tier could have thought they were arguing," the investigative report said.

On awakening about
3 a.m., Jamison said, he saw Lambert foaming at the mouth. But Jamison said he did not alert an officer because he thought Lambert was feigning illness. Lambert was discovered by guards about 3:10 a.m.


Jamison refused to take a polygraph test, according to the investigative report. Investigators also noticed that Jamison's left index finger was cut and he had minor cuts and swelling on his face and over his right eye.

Asked by investigators how he sustained the injuries, Jamison explained that he burned his hand cooking in his cell and was hit in the head with an elbow during a basketball game.

But Jamison could not name the inmates he played hoops with or whether anyone on the tier could corroborate that the injuries resulted from the game.



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