Sister mourns Atascadero State Hospital patient strangled in dorm

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comJune 5, 2014 

The patient killed at Atascadero State Hospital last week has been identified by his family as Kevin Allan Turner, 53, of Washington.

Turner has a criminal history in Los Angeles dating back to the 1980s that is peppered with convictions for burglary, petty theft and involuntary manslaughter, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation records show.

Despite his past, Mary Lowry of Las Vegas, Nev., said she and her brother, who was a year older than her, were close, and she wants the state to be held accountable for his death.

"They’re inmates, but they’re still human beings," she told The Tribune. "And my brother didn't deserve to be strangled to death. I’m going to speak for my brother and every other patient there that something has to be done for their safety."

It was unclear why Turner needed mental health treatment.

ASH treats mentally ill offenders from California’s court and correctional system so they can return to trial or prison. The forensic hospital struggles with violence among its all-male patient population.

In 2012, there were 3,149 aggressive acts against staff working in the state’s five hospitals and 3,914 aggressive acts against other patients, according to state hospital data provided by San Luis Obispo Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian’s office, which is working toward state hospital safety reform.

Murders at the hospitals aren’t as common as injuries. Turner’s death is the first alleged homicide by another patient at ASH since 2008.

“Homicides at state hospitals are rare,” said Ralph Montano, a Department of State Hospitals spokesman.

Turner’s death was the first homicide to occur within the entire department this year. Before that, there were three cases of patients killing patients since 2008, Montano said.

Hospital roommates

The Department of State Hospitals is barred by federal privacy law from releasing patient names and their information, even after a patient has died.

However, state prison and court records shed some light on their circumstances.

Turner was allegedly strangled by his roommate as he slept in a dorm room on the afternoon of May 28, a report filed with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office shows.

The roommate, Adam Paul Cary, 34, was found lying on top of Turner and holding him in chokehold, the report says, and he later confessed to the slaying.

“They tried to resuscitate him, but he was already gone,” Lowry said of her brother. “I’m devastated.”

An autopsy was done May 29, but the results won’t be released until toxicology tests are complete, which could take two months, the county Sheriff’s Office said.

Cary has been arraigned in San Luis Obispo Superior Court and ordered to be psychologically evaluated to determine whether he is fit to stand trial.

Meanwhile, Turner’s death has been reported to Disability Rights California, the agency mandated by federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities.

“It is too early … to determine if the patient death at Atascadero is the result of abuse or neglect,” spokeswoman Barbara Duncan said, noting her group is investigating the incident.

It’s not clear why Cary was able to spend enough unsupervised time with Turner to allegedly kill him. Lowry said it’s one of her many questions.

“Where was the staff when he was killed, and why was this guy allowed to be around him?” Lowry said. “I don’t understand how this could have happened.”

She also wants to know if the patients are segregated within the hospital according to the types of crimes they’ve committed.

While details on Turner’s crimes weren’t immediately available, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Bill Sessa said that aside from the involuntary manslaughter conviction — where a killing occurred that wasn’t premeditated — Turner’s rap sheet was fairly bland.

Cary had a documented history of attempted rape, assault and behavior involving religious and sexual delusions, according to the District Attorney’s office.

History of troubles

When Lowry learned her brother died, she said she fell to the floor, consumed with grief and crying uncontrollably.

“I’ve just never done that before,” she said. “I feel a part of me died when my brother died.”

Turner struggled in life, she said. He spent time in foster care as a child and, as an adult, lived on the streets.

“He had his problems,” Lowry said.

He spent time in and out of prison from 1984 to 2012.

His criminal background includes three convictions for burglary and one for petty theft with a prior and one conviction for involuntary manslaughter. He was on parole for an unusually long time because of a series of parole violations, predominately for attempting to evade his parole officer, Sessa said.

He also spent time in institutions, his sister said. He was eventually remanded to Atascadero State Hospital in 2011 for a short time before returning there in 2012, where he had been petitioning to get out, court records show.

Turner’s mother, who declined to talk to The Tribune, told Lowry that in recent months Turner was “happy … and showing everyone our family pictures. He knew his family loved him,” Lowry said.

Going forward, Lowry wants to travel to California to see her brother’s body, cremate it and bring his ashes home. She and her husband, Mark Lowry, may pursue legal action against the state.

“I want it to be known that my brother was a human being despite what he did to get there,” she said. “He’s not just an inmate who was murdered by someone. I want everyone to know he was my brother.”

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