Latest: Fight over blanket sparks inmate-on-inmate killing at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison _lowres

Kermitrius Thomas (left) and Tyrin Colbert

An inmate at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is accused of strangling and killing his cellmate in a fight over a blanket, marking the first inmate-on-inmate slaying at the facility in at least eight years, an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office official said.

During a routine check, Tyrin Colbert, 17, was found unresponsive, face-down, with a blanket around his neck about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the two-person cell he shared with 17-year-old Kermitrius Thomas, said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks.

Colbert, who was transported to a local hospital Wednesday in critical condition, was removed from life support Thursday morning, Hicks said.

Thomas now faces a count of second-degree murder and was placed in a “lockdown” cell by himself, Hicks said.

Detectives learned from other inmates that Colbert and Thomas had a fight over a blanket. During a struggle, Thomas is suspected of pulling Colbert off the top bunk onto the floor and choking him with the cloth until Colbert was unconscious, Hicks said.

There were two blankets in the cell, Hicks said.

Colbert was heard yelling, “I’m sorry,” and “I give up,” during the incident, the Sheriff’s Office report said. The blanket wasn’t tied to any other objects in the cell, and the two inmates were the only ones in the cell at the time of the apparent strangling, according to the report. While deputies were performing chest compressions on Colbert, the report said Thomas walked out of the cell holding a piece of the blanket and was arrested.

The last inmate-on-inmate killing at the jail occurred Aug. 30, 2007, when Chas Saucier was beaten to death by two prisoners using bars of soap stuffed into socks. Saucier, 32, who’d been booked on a count of violating his probation after a cocaine possession conviction, died of bleeding inside his skull.

The two inmates accused of second-degree murder in the slaying, Christopher Brown and Carlese Baker, were ultimately not prosecuted in the case.

Colbert had been in jail since Nov. 4 on accusations he tried to rape two boys. A Baton Rouge police report said that on July 6, Colbert went to sleep in the same room as an 8-year-old and a 13-year old. After trying to rape the younger child, who screamed, the older boy woke up and pushed Colbert off the child, prompting him to try to rape the teenager, the document said.

The boys were able to escape and report the incident to an adult.

But Colbert’s father, Hosey Colbert, says he is skeptical about the sexual assault claims against his son.

“(The accusers) made charges that he did something to their kids, but they never proved it,” Hosey Colbert said.

The father said his son was staying with friends for two weeks over the summer, and at no point did the hosts call him to complain about his son’s suspected behavior. Then, in November, the accusations surfaced against his son.

Tyrin Colbert, who faced a count of sexual battery and two counts of indecent behavior with juveniles, was never charged with the crimes, according to court records, though the required 60-day window in which prosecutors are supposed to file felony charges had passed.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office didn’t charge Tyrin Colbert within 60 days because prosecutors were delayed by numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact the victims’ mother and other relatives. The victims’ family never contacted the District Attorney’s Office about the alleged crime. Moore said Tyrin Colbert would likely have been charged “soon” even without the family’s cooperation because the victims were children.

Tyrin Colbert also never filed a motion seeking his release under Louisiana’s Article 701, which spells out the charging deadlines. Moore said that Colbert needed to exercise that right under the law guaranteeing defendants’ right to a speedy trial.

Tyrin Colbert could have filed that motion, which might have allowed his release from jail, by about Jan. 4.

“We’re trying to just plan his funeral and move on,” his father said. “We’re just trying to stay strong.”

No video footage exists of the incident, since cameras only capture the hallways between the cells, said Hicks. Low ceilings and the defendants’ ability to destroy cameras have prevented jail officials from installing more surveillance devices, she said.

Those limitations are a reminder of the ongoing fight to renovate the aged facility, a conversation that frequently dissolves because of limited city-parish funding for such a project, she said. The oldest part of the jail, which has seen additions, was built in 1960.

Thomas, the accused killer, has been an inmate at the jail since Dec. 29, when he was arrested on a count of unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.

In that incident, Thomas was accused of being one of six men to break into an apartment at 2888 Dougherty Drive, also known as the King’s Court Apartments. According to a Baton Rouge Police Report, an officer discovered Thomas and other individuals inside the dwelling, where there was a strong odor of marijuana.

Thomas and three others — Darrius Williams, Isaac E. Burton and Tyrese Magee — were charged on Feb. 16 with unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling, according to court records.

Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.