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Inmate withholds guilty plea in prison riot

NATCHEZ — An inmate charged in the May 2012 prison riot that resulted in the death of a correctional officer in Adams County appeared ready to plead guilty to conspiracy of murder Thursday before changing his mind in the courtroom.

Jesus Beltran-Rodriguez was one of five inmates indicted on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder in relation to the May 20, 2012, riot at the Adams County Correctional Center.

He had pleaded “not guilty” to the charge May 22, but was scheduled for a change of plea hearing in federal court Thursday in Natchez.

When Judge David Bramlette asked Rodriguez if he was pleased with the amount and quality of legal advice he had received, he responded, speaking through an interpreter, “The truth is, I am not. I do accept I climbed up to the roof…”

Before he could continue, his attorney — Damon Stevenson of Jackson — stopped him. When Bramlette asked him again if he was happy with his legal representation, Rodriguez responded, “Yes.”

In previous court filings, federal investigators have alleged correctional officer Catlin Carithers was attacked in the line of duty by inmates who stacked cafeteria carts and other items to access the prison roof on which he was standing. Carithers later died of blunt force trauma to the head sustained in the attack.

When the judge asked Rodriguez if he was willing to waive the right to a trial and enter a guilty plea, he answered in the affirmative. But before the judge could finish the legally required line of questioning necessary to accept a new plea, the defendant said he had questions he wanted to ask his attorney.

After a 15-minute conference between Rodriguez and his attorney, Stevenson addressed the judge.

Stevenson said he had met with his client Monday and Rodriguez had indicated at that time he was ready to move forward with the plea.

“Since Monday, it appears some issues have arisen,” Stevenson said. “He has been informed that his mother is gravely ill, and he is very emotional. At this time, I don’t think he is able to think clearly.”

When Stevenson asked the court to continue the matter until a later date, Bramlette asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Lemon his thoughts, and Lemon said he was willing to return to court to hear a guilty plea at a later date.

Of the five inmates indicted with the charge of conspiracy to commit murder, four have been served with the indictments, Lemon said, and all of them will be tried together.

Bramlette said the court would set aside a week for the trial in August.

Conspiracy to commit murder can result in a life sentence, Bramlette said.

Approximately 700 inmates were alleged to have participated in the May 2012 riot.

Corrections Corporation of America operates the 2,567- bed low security prison.