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Slain Zephyrhills Correctional prisoner had killed deputy

ZEPHYRHILLS — Augustus King spent 44 years in prison for murdering a deputy in Escambia County in 1966.

On the evening of Feb. 28, King was killed by his cellmate at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution. He was 68.

"Thank goodness," said Fred Gassman, the son of slain deputy Joseph Gassman. "It's just 44 years too late."

Gassman had been a deputy for nearly a decade when he was killed at age 56. His son said he was good with people, liked telling stories and jokes, and he knew everybody in town. Serving warrants was his specialty — getting people to tell him where fugitives were hiding. That's what he was doing on Jan. 30, 1966 — finding Augustus King, wanted on an aggravated assault charge.

King stabbed him several times and ran.

Gassman's wife, Mary, never moved from their house in Pensacola, never remarried and visited her husband's grave often. She died last year at 95.

Fred Gassman is now 72. His older brother, Joe, is dead. He has a younger brother, Richard.

Gassman said King's case went to trial twice — first getting the death sentence, but changed to life in prison on appeal. Then, a few decades ago, King was up for parole. Gassman, who still lives in Pensacola, said he and his family would make the 200-mile trip to Tallahassee every few years to make sure King stayed in prison.

His last trip was in February.

King's parole was denied.

The Florida Department of Corrections said the inmate who killed King was James J. Hugger, a 52-year-old serving a 15-year sentence for attempted murder.

Preliminary information indicated King died from asphyxiation.

The department has not released any other details about the killing. The medical examiner performed an autopsy and the case is still under investigation, agency spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said.

King's family hasn't been notified of his death because the Department of Corrections can't find them.

"We've given up," Plessinger said Wednesday.

Plessinger said King's emergency contacts — his mother and father — are both dead.

He had one visitor since the prisons computerized their system decades ago: a cousin named Jerome, who saw King in 2009. The cousin cannot be located, Plessinger said.

Inmates submit a list of people they would like to see to staff, who then approve the visitors once those people contact the Department of Corrections, wishing to see the inmate.

King had his wife, Marva, and daughter, Dorothy, on his list. Plessinger said neither visited, at least since the computerized system went into effect.

King had a history of discipline problems — feigning illness, threats, possessing weapons, assault — and was transferred 14 times between seven prisons. He had been living at the Zephyrhills Correctional Institution since 2007, his second time at the prison.

His body will be shipped back to where he began at age 24, his first prison, Union Correctional Institution in Raiford — where his alleged killer, Hugger, now sits in solitary confinement.

King will be buried at the inmate cemetery. A chaplain will conduct a short prayer. Those in attendance will be any inmates working on the cemetery grounds who happen to be close by.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Slain Zephyrhills Correctional prisoner had killed deputy 03/10/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 10:46pm]
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