ZEPHYRHILLS — A Pinellas County man accused of murdering his cell mate last year at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution said he beat and stomped the man in a fit of rage because he had bragged about molesting a child.
"I just lost it," Eric Davis, 34, told the Tampa Bay Times in May. "I wasn't trying to kill him."
But a recently released report by the Florida Department of Corrections tells a different story. DOC's investigation revealed that Davis told other inmates he planned to kill Joe Hayes and two days before the April 2012 killing tried to buy a razor blade from a fellow prisoner. The investigation also revealed that another cell mate, Bruce Turnbull, took part in the fatal beating and offered another possible motive: annoyance at Hayes' obsessive compulsive habits.
"Davis and Turnbull had been complaining about their roommate, Inmate Hayes, 'getting on their nerves' because of his obsessive handwashing," another inmate, Clarence Jacobs, told investigators.
"Davis then said that when he went back to the dorm after (recreation time) he was going to kill Hayes," the report said Jacobs told them. "Turnbull then replied to Davis, 'I'm with you.' "
Hayes, 54, died April 21, 2012, at Lakeland Regional Hospital from blunt force trauma. Hayes' sister told the Times that one of his ears was black and swollen. About a year later, authorities charged Davis with second-degree murder.
A corrections officer making routine checks first noticed Hayes lying face down and motionless on the floor next to his bunk about 11:30 p.m. He called for another officer to flip on the lights in cell L2104.
Davis and Turnbull were in their bunks. A third cell mate, Ricky Baldridge, was squatting against the wall beside the toilet. Officers found blood on the floor as well as on a bedsheet.
Baldridge, who was not involved in the incident, told investigators that Davis had been taunting Hayes for several days and about 9 that night, he started lightly slapping and pushing Hayes. Later, he said Turnbull had also been involved, but hit and kicked Hayes only in the stomach and ribs and "gave up" and went to bed while Davis continued hitting and stomping Hayes' head.
Whether Turnbull would face charges in Hayes' death was not clear.
"I don't give a (expletive) about snitching," Baldridge told investigators that night. "What they did to that man was wrong." He said later that Davis had told the other two he would take sole blame for the beating as he was already serving life and wanted to be put on Death Row. He told Baldridge "to just keep your mouth shut and everything will be all right."
The 15-page report also offers a glimpse into prison culture. Inmates who did talk to investigators did so only after certain concessions were made, such as transferring them to other institutions. Inmates also expressed fears about being known as a "snitch."
In addition to statements from inmates, the report also includes descriptions of what several cameras showed at the time. A camera was in the corner of cell L2104 but was "inoperable," according to the report. Corrections spokeswoman Ann Howard said because the cell was not a "confinement" area, it was not required to have a camera.
Inmate Anthony Taylor told investigators that on April 18 Davis approached him in the TV room about buying a razor blade. Taylor refused. Later that day, he said, Davis asked again and offered a book of stamps in exchange for the razor blade.
"Davis then told him he wanted to kill one of his roommates," the report said. "When he asked Davis which one, Davis told him 'Joe Hayes' and that he wanted to kill Hayes because Hayes was a pedophile."
When Taylor refused again to sell him a blade, Davis left. He later asked Taylor if a bar of soap wrapped in a sock would be efficient as a weapon, the report said.
Shortly after the beating, while in separate shower stalls, Davis communicated via "sign language" to Taylor, who could see him from his cell. Taylor said Davis told him he and his "partner" had beaten Hayes and that he did it on April 20 because it was Adolf Hitler's birthday. Taylor told investigators that Davis said he was affiliated with the neo-Nazi group, Aryan Nation.
The report said Hayes, who had been in prison since 1981, was serving a life sentence for burglary and aggravated assault. No records show any crimes involving children. He had been in cell L2104 since July 23, 2010. Davis, sentenced to life for murdering his wife, had been put in the cell on March 19, 2012. Baldridge had been in the cell only three days before the beating.