ANCHORAGE — Alaska prisons officials refuse to say how confessed serial killer Israel Keyes obtained a razor before his jail-cell suicide.
The state Department of Corrections denied a public records request from The Associated Press that seeks to determine why Keyes was able have a razor in his Anchorage cell. Keyes slit his wrist in December with the blade of a disposal razor that was imbedded in a pencil. He also strangled himself with a bedsheet.
At the time of his death, Keyes was awaiting trial in the 2012 slaying of an 18-year-old Anchorage barista. Under state policy, he would not have been authorized to have possession of a razor, according to a list of items allowed for pre-trial detainees. Razors can be possessed by convicted prisoners who have been cleared to have them.
In its denial, the state cites prisoner confidentiality. It also says information on the department’s internal investigation of Keyes’ death is denied “on the ground that the only investigation performed was conducted at the direction of Assistant Attorney General John K. Bodick in anticipation of litigation and is thus protected from release by the attorney-client privilege.”
Bodick said Monday he doesn’t know of any lawsuits planned over Keyes’ death, but his office wanted to be better prepared should litigation arise in this case or others involving other inmate deaths. He said Keyes was the kick-off point of a new approach to inmate deaths that had been discussed before his death. Earlier deaths have been handled with a variety of reports by different officials.
Keyes’ family or others have a two-year window to sue, Bodick said. But even if no one does, a lot about Keyes’ death may never be disclosed.
“There’s still a right to privacy involved regarding these kinds of sensitive topics,” Bodick said. “So I think, despite the fact there may be no lawsuit forthcoming, there’s still a right to privacy with the survivors, which would remain.”
John McKay, an Anchorage media law attorney, questioned placing a “blanket rule” of information restrictions on all inmate deaths. The death of an elderly inmate no one remembers, for example, can’t be compared with Keyes’ suicide, which essentially thwarted the investigation of a serial killer’s crime spree. McKay said it also seems like bad public policy to adopt a rule that could hide any culpability on the state’s part.
“I’m not saying that there was wrongdoing,” he said. “I’m just saying it seems wrong to adopt a policy that would shelter any public knowledge about possible wrongdoing.”
Keyes was found dead Dec. 2. Also found were two bloodied sheets of paper with illegible writings that have been analyzed by the FBI, which has not disclosed it findings, only that they did not include a list of Keyes’ other victims.
Keyes, 34, was set for a March trial in federal court in the abduction and killing of Anchorage barista Samantha Koenig. Before he died, Keyes also confessed to the killings of at least seven others across the country, including Bill and Lorraine Currier of Essex, Vt., in 2011. He also alluded to other possible victims. Koenig and the Curriers are the only victims named by Keyes because he knew authorities had tied him to their deaths.
He was in state custody in Anchorage because there are no federal prisons in Alaska.
Besides declining specifics on Keyes’ razor access, the state also declined to discuss policies for inmate razor use and how they apply to an inmate who confessed to numerous killings.
Corrections spokeswoman Kaci Schroeder said that even general discussions of razor possession are not public because they are a security issue.
“If an inmate reads on how we’re doing something,” she said, “then, you know, they can work around the system.”
Keyes was once on suicide watch. At the time of his death, he had been segregated from other inmates but was not on a suicide watch.
In its public records denial, the Corrections Department declined to say why Keyes was placed on suicide watch and for how long. The agency won’t say when and why he was taken off suicide watch or if he was always segregated from other inmates.
The state also declined to say when Keyes’ cell was last checked when he was alive, when he was found dead and who discovered the body.