Slain Baldwin inmate’s estate files suit against prison workers

awomack@macon.comJuly 23, 2013 

The administrator of a slain Baldwin State Prison inmate’s estate has filed suit against prison employees, alleging that the inmate shouldn’t have been housed with the man who beat him to death.

Terrance Desmond Bowen, 30, was serving a life sentence at the Milledgeville prison after his 2006 conviction for rape and burglary charges in Douglas County.

Although Bowen had no disciplinary or mental problems, he was assigned to a “lockdown segregation unit for disciplinary, protected custody and mental health” inmates, according to the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

He shared a cell with Carl Eric Merkerson, a man serving a life sentence for a DeKalb County murder. The only way to see into their cell was through a small window that stayed covered with a flap unless a prison official lifted the flap. The men were kept in the cell 23 hours most days and were allowed one hour for recreation, appointments and showers, according to the suit.

The lawyer representing Bowen’s estate contends that prison staff should have known that Merkerson, who had been in the prison system since 2008, suffered from “severe chronic paranoid schizophrenia” and that he allegedly had assaulted another inmate in the past.

Officials moved Merkerson into a cell with Bowen a few days before Bowen’s death, according to the suit.

The complaint alleges that on March 9, 2010, Merkerson had a “bizarre delusion” that Bowen had cut off his head and reattached it during the middle of the night. That day, the day he attacked Bowen, he thought Bowen was going to kill his mother and that he was under FBI surveillance. He admitted to a prison psychiatrist that he’d heard voices that told him he needed to beat Bowen.

When prison staff found Bowen, he’d been badly beaten. His body was limp and his head was in the toilet. Merkerson had his hands around Bowen’s neck, and he was pressing his knee against Bowen’s back, according to the suit.

Bowen was taken to The Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon and was declared brain dead a few hours later.

Merkerson later was found guilty but mentally ill in Bowen’s slaying, according to the lawsuit.

Attempts to reach the Carrollton lawyer representing Bowen’s estate were unsuccessful Tuesday.

The lawsuit names as defendants four prison staff members and a psychiatrist responsible for assessing and evaluating inmates with mental illness. Each defendant is sued in an individual capacity.

Contacted for comment on behalf of the defendants, the prison system declined comment Tuesday.

Prison records show that Merkerson is being held at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison near Jackson.

Bowen’s estate is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and litigation costs.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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