The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

November 23, 2012

When rage and rationale collide | Inmate's alleged confession chilling

JOHNSTOWN — Despite the scowl that he wore on his face as he was led out of a Cambria County Prison van in Ebensburg on Monday, 21-year-old William Amos Cramer didn’t look that intimidating.

But the crimes that Cramer is accused of and the statements that he allegedly made about them are truly frightening.

Barely old enough to buy a drink in a nearby bar, Cramer unleashed a lifetime’s worth of hate on

Aug. 4, according to District Attorney Kelly Callihan. That’s the date when Cramer’s cellmate, 28-year-old William Sherry of Johnstown was found dead, hanging from a rung on the ladder to his bunk by a piece of cloth torn from a bedsheet.

“No sense checking on him,” Cramer allegedly told Corrections Officer John Frank. “He’s dead.”

But, investigators say, this was no jailhouse suicide.

Sherry’s hands and feet were bound with strips torn from the bedsheet.

And, Callihan said, Cramer admitted killing Sherry in a handwritten note that he allegedly gave another inmate.

Cramer has not been convicted in the attack – he was ordered to stand trial on charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault and assault by a prisoner – but if he did write the note, it could provide a chilling look into the mind of a killer.

Rarely is it possible to see boiling hot rage meld together with the cold, calculating rationale of a sadist. If Cramer is eventually convicted and linked to the note, his own words will have given us that unwanted opportunity.

“I didn’t intend to do it,” Cramer reportedly wrote. “He just pushed the wrong buttons.”

Those “wrong buttons” apparently had to do with interracial relations, which allegedly sparked the dispute between the two white cell mates. Sherry had fathered a child with a black woman, according to the note.

The note alleges that Sherry tried to stab the writer with a sharpened toothbrush.

As quoted by Callihan, Cramer allegedly wrote, “So I beat (N-word)/half-breed up, tied him up, beat him up some more, gave him a last word, made him kiss my boot and say that ‘white man marches on,’ then threw him on the bed, took a piece of sheet, strangled him, watched him die. Then hung (him).”

Those words – so powerful, so appalling, so downright scary – make us wonder how someone can be so full of hate. The horror of the images conjured by the note is only exceeded by the realization it might be an accurate description of how Sherry, who was in prison for just four days for a probation violation, died.

If possible, the note might make the murder even more heinous, as it is an admission that the victim had submitted, giving the accused killer time to think about his actions, and was strangled anyway.

Cramer, who is from Fayette County, had been moved to Cambria County Prison a few weeks earlier for a court hearing on two cases in which he was accused of assaulting corrections officers at Cresson State Prison. He has been incarcerated since he was 17 and has now served stints in half a dozen different prisons. Whether or not he should have been housed in the same cell as Sherry is certainly open for debate.

What isn’t is that Cramer, if convicted, should never get out of prison.

Even Cramer could see the reality of that in the moments after Sherry’s lifeless body was discovered.

“There goes the rest of my life,” he told a guard, according to a police affidavit. “I’m only 21 years old.”

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