|Witnesses: Inmates fought to the death in cages|
|By Associated Press|
Rival inmates and gang members faced off in prison exercise cages where they could fight, according to witnesses in a Southeast Texas capital murder trial.
Prisoners sometimes called the 15-by-20-foot exercise cages "the thunder dome" or "gladiator school."
After one such beating in a cage in 2001, Luther Plant of Orange died. Shannon Wayne Agofsky of Noel, Mo., who is accused of killing him, already was serving life without parole and faces the death penalty if convicted.
Christopher Matt, a prison officer at the U.S. Penitentiary in Beaumont, testified that he was putting prisoners into the last in a row of six cages when he heard "a thumping and a grunting sound."
Matt turned in time to see Agofsky, 33, using his foot to stomp another inmate's head three cages away, Matt said. He called for backup and started shooting the scene with a video camera.
Jurors on Tuesday saw a videotape of Plant, 37, dying with his arms and legs twitching, his face bloody and mangled. Testimony in the case continued Thursday.
About two minutes after the beating, prison officials pulled Plant out of the cage. He was pronounced dead less than two hours later.
Forensic pathologist Tommy Brown testified that Plant's throat was crushed and he drowned in his own blood, according to Thursday's online edition of the Beaumont Enterprise.
In the prison's Special Housing Unit, rule-breakers are allowed one hour out of their cells each day. Matt testified that for that hour out, he must determine which prisoners to put in which cages, based on who can get along with whom.
But Matt said he detected no hostility between Agofsky and Plant.
Court documents show that Agofsky, who is taller than 6 feet and weighs about 170 pounds, is a master of the Korean martial arts practice Hwa Rang Do. Plant, who was 5-foot-8, was a heroin addict who suffered from hepatitis C, according to testimony.
Plant was serving a 15-year sentence at the time of his death for arson and felon in possession of a firearm.
Agofsky was serving a life sentence for a federal conviction of bank robbery. Agofsky also was convicted in state court for the murder of banker Dan Short, whose body was found in Grand Lake of the Cherokees just north of Grove, Okla.
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