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Prison riot inmate sentenced to 10 years

NATCHEZ — An inmate who played a role in the deadly, May 2012 prison riot in Adams County was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison — the maximum allowed.

The sentence came despite Ernesto Lizama-Reynaga’s protests that he had only pleaded guilty to rioting in order to get reassigned to a new correctional facility

Lizama-Reynaga had previously agreed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s factual basis read into the court record for his guilty plea that included assertions the government could prove he had been seen carrying a pole and piece of concrete, striking windows with a commissary tray and throwing items from the Adams County Correctional Center’s kitchen during the riot.

At his sentencing Tuesday, however, the defendant recanted his agreement with those assertions.

“What I did was just go out — I was outside (during the riot),” Lizama-Reynaga said, speaking through an interpreter.

When U.S. District Judge David Bramlette asked the Lizama-Reynaga if he had struck a window with a tray, the defendant replied, “Never.”

Bramlette denied Lizama-Reynaga’s request for a reduction in sentence based on acceptance of responsibility in part because of the inmate’s change in his story, noting that during a pre-sentencing investigation with federal probation officers Lizama-Reynaga reportedly said “he only pleaded guilty to be removed from the Madison County Correctional Center, which everyone wants out of.”

Lizama-Reynaga’s attorney, Aafram Sellers, argued that sentencing should be lenient in part because he was not alleged to have attacked guards directly and because others who played similar roles in the riot had been given sentences of 40 to 60 months.

“To impose a 120-month sentence would be a substantial disparity between those individuals whose conduct would have been the same if not more so (in participation) than Mr. Reynaga,” Sellers said.

The judge said Lizama-Reynaga had a criminal history four-and-a-half pages long that included armed robbery, receiving stolen property, harassment, menacing, assault, attempted assault, drunkenness and re-entry of a deported alien.

Based on federal sentencing guidelines that take into consideration past criminal history, the potential sentence the defendant could have received actually exceeded the 120-month statutory cap for rioting, Bramlette said.

Under sentencing guidelines, Lizama-Reynaga could have received a sentence of 130-162 months.

In addition to the full 120 months, the judge ordered Lizama-Reynaga to pay $1.3 million in restitution — along with the other defendants convicted for rioting — to Corrections Corporation of America and to two individuals.

The Adams County Correctional Center is a federal prison operated by CCA.

The May 20, 2012, riot at the prison lasted seven hours, during which inmates took correctional officers hostage, assaulted guards and raided the facility.

One correctional officer, Catlin Carithers, was killed while deploying crowd control gas from the roof of a prison building after inmates stacked food service carts and used a stolen ladder to access the area.