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An Act of 'Pure Evil': Anamosa Inmates Face Multiple Charges For Killing Two Staffers During Escape Attempt

Kate Payne
Flags fly at half-staff outside the Anamosa State Penitentiary, one day after state officials say two inmates killed a nurse and a correctional officer while attempting to escape the prison.

Two incarcerated individuals face multiple charges in the killings of a nurse and a correctional officer at the Anamosa State Penitentiary Tuesday. State investigators say the inmates used hammers to beat the staffers and another inmate while attempting to escape the prison. The first deadly attack on Iowa prison staff in decades, the incident has shaken current and former employees and brings new urgency to advocates’ years-long call for additional state funding to boost staffing levels.

An act of ‘pure evil’

Investigators say 28-year-old Michael Dutcher and 39-year-old Thomas Woodard were armed with two hammers and a grinder Tuesday morning when they entered the infirmary at the Anamosa State Penitentiary and tried to break out of the sprawling limestone fortress.

State officials called what they did next “heinous” and “evil."

“I want to make it clear about what took place here yesterday: two public servants were taken from this world by an act that I only can describe as pure evil."
-Beth Skinner, Director, Iowa Department of Corrections

“I want to make it clear about what took place here yesterday: two public servants were taken from this world by an act that I only can describe as pure evil,” Department of Corrections Director Beth Skinner said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon outside the prison.

Some 60 people, in addition to journalists, had gathered to listen, among them union members and current and former prison employees. Some had spent more than three decades on the job.

Special Agent in Charge Richard Rahn of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said Wednesday that the inmates entered the infirmary under the “ruse of repairing some equipment," but had been planning their escape attempt “for some time."

Slain staffers hailed as ‘heroes’

Inmates routinely do maintenance and other essential jobs behind the walls of Iowa’s prisons, granting them some access to certain tools and some ability to move throughout the facilities.

Once inside the infirmary, they entered a staff breakroom within the clinic, where they broke the glass in an exterior window and tried to grind through the metal bars, unsuccessfully.

Rahn said it was in the breakroom that the inmates attacked correctional officer Robert McFarland, 46, with a hammer. Registered Nurse Lorena Schulte, 50, also received “blunt force trauma to the back of her head."

Another employee, Lori Mathis, tried to “render aid” to the employees when she was grabbed by the incarcerated individuals.

“Mathis was told that she would be next if she didn't cooperate and she was held against her will,” Rahn said.

Another inmate, McKinley Roby, also suffered blunt force head injuries during the incident, as a result of trying to help render aid to the injured staffers, Rahn said.

According to an affidavit, both Schulte and McFarland were pronounced dead at the scene. Mathis and Roby survived the attack and as of Wednesday afternoon, Roby had been transferred to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for treatment.

Rahn said that McFarland and Schulte acted heroically and took steps to trigger an alarm, efforts that he said saved Mathis’ life.

“Mr. Roby certainly did everything he could to save those two. And I will tell you that both Ms. Schulte and McFarland are heroes. They're heroes. They did everything they could to help each other. But by their actions, they were able to save Ms. Mathis’ life,” Rahn said. “They need to be recognized.”

Prosecutors file charges in deadly attack

Prosecutors have filed four charges against both Dutcher and Woodard. They face two counts each of first-degree murder, one count each of attempted murder and one count each of second-degree kidnapping.

Both men were serving time on first-degree robbery charges, among other offenses. Dutcher had been slated for release in 2057, Woodard in 2029.

Officials with Iowa DOC, DCI, the state Attorney General’s Office, the Jones County Sheriff’s Office and County Attorney have all been involved in the investigation, which is ongoing.

Among the key questions remaining are how the inmates were able to get access to the tools and to the staff breakroom. According to Skinner, the inmates were maintenance workers at the prison. The hammers came from the prison’s maintenance shop, according to the affidavit.

Anamosa Warden Jeremy Larsen said there are control policies and procedures in place for checking tools in and out, and requiring staff to supervise inmates when they use certain tools. Larsen said an internal review into whether those policies were followed is ongoing.

“That’s still in the process, so I don’t have any details of, where the tools were checked out and all that stuff yet. We’re still gathering that,” Larsen said. “We will review all those things.”

Rahn said if investigators conclude there were other accomplices, they will also face charges.

“It is my sincere belief that those involved in taking these lives will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Skinner said.

Schulte and McFarland had both served the Anamosa prison for more than a decade, Schulte since 2007 and McFarland since 2008.

Skinner said both “faithfully served” the department and she grew emotional multiple times when speaking of the profound loss for the victims’ families and the grief of their colleagues, whose jobs entail “inherent risk."

“Their families will never again feel the joy of their loved one coming home at the end of the day. The world is a little darker today than it was just a short time ago, when the lives of these selfless individuals were extinguished yesterday behind these walls,” Skinner said. “Please keep the men and the women of Iowa Corrections in your thoughts.”

Advocates say prisons have been ‘understaffed for years’

The brutal killings, unparalleled in Iowa prisons in recent memory, came as a shock to advocates, staff and former employees. It’s a blow to corrections employees, many of whom devote decades to the department and continue to describe their former coworkers as “family” even years after they retired.

For years, employees and advocates have been calling for an increase in state funding, saying rounds of budget cuts have left the department critically understaffed, forcing difficult decisions on how to balance rehabilitation efforts and security measures.

Former employees told IPR that at the same time, the state’s inmate population has grown and their needs have become more complex.

“Unfortunately I’ve said for years that at some point in time this was going to cost somebody their life. I was wrong. It cost two people their lives yesterday. And I’m sick about that.”
-Danny Homan, President, AFSCME Council 61

“There’s more and more offenders that have the anti-personality disorder and mental health issues now that you never know when someone’s going to do something like this,” said Jeff Fliehler, who worked as a correctional counselor for 35 years at Anamosa.

Advocates say the cost of underfunding the institutions is now abundantly clear.

“I mean this prison can have four, 500 inmates out walking in the yard. And they don’t have enough staff,” said Brian Nassif, who worked in maintenance at Anamosa for 32 years. “What needs to change is they need to get more staff.”

Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, the union which represents the state’s corrections workers, has said his members will have more to say on the issue, after a period of mourning in respect for the victims’ families.

“Unfortunately I’ve said for years that at some point in time this was going to cost somebody their life. I was wrong,” Homan said. “It cost two people their lives yesterday. And I’m sick about that.”