The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 19, 2012

Inmate ordered to stand trial in Cambria death

EBENSBURG — A state inmate who allegedly strangled his cellmate to death Aug. 4 at the Cambria County Prison made racist remarks about the victim, a white man, after the slaying, it was revealed Monday.

The defendant, 21-year-old William Amos Cramer, who is also white, is accused of using a torn strip of a bedsheet to strangle 28-year-old William Sherry to death Aug. 4, the same day when he had been moved into the same cell with Cramer.

Cramer was ordered to stand trial on charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault and assaut by a prisoner at a three-hour preliminary hearing before District Judge Fred Creany.

Police alleged that the defendant had staged the cell to make it appear that Sherry had committed suicide by hanging himself with a torn bedsheet tied around a rung on the bunk ladder.

But Deputy Coroner Pete Long said suicide was ruled out because the victim’s hands were tied together behind his back, and his ankles also were bound together with strips of the torn sheet.

Alan Bertram, a corrections officer, said that he responded to the cell after the intercom was activated and a voice – which turned out to be Cramer’s – could be heard yelling, although the words could not be distinguished.

Bertram testified that when he got to the cell, Cramer stood at the three-inch wide window yelling, “Get this child molester out of my cell. What did you put him in here for?” although there was no evidence the victim had a record of child molestation.

Cramer, who was then cuffed, was taken to a nearby small shower room where he was locked in temporarily, told Corrections Officer John Frank, “No sense to check on him (Sherry). He’s dead,” Frank testified.

Cramer had been moved to the county prison on July 11 from the state Correctional Institution-Fayette July 11 for a court hearing in Cambria County court on two cases in which he was accused of assaulting corrections officers at Cresson State Prison.

Then, on Aug. 17, Cramer allegedly gave a handwritten note to another inmate calling Sherry a “half-breed” and alleging that he had fathered a black child.

In the note allegedly handwritten by Cramer, the writer said that Sherry had tried to stab him with a sharpened toothbrush that day after they got into an altercation.

As quoted by District Attorney Kelly 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).

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

At the time of the Aug. 4 assault on Sherry, Cramer was awaiting transportation back to the Fayette state prison. He’s now being housed at Rockview State Prison in lieu of bond in the homicide case.

Sherry, a Northern Cambria native who most recently had been living in Johnstown, had been in prison only four days on a bench warrant for being delinquent on costs/fines payments and for failing to report to his probation officer.

Witnesses testified that the two men apparently had not known each other prior to that day.

When checks had been made throughout the day, there had not appeared to be any problems between the two men, according to the testimony.

Although one officer talked about logging a notation at 9:31 p.m. that nothing had been found amiss, defense attorneys Ryan Gleason and Patricia Moore raised questions about the timing, that the intercom had been sounded at 9:35 p.m., only four minutes later, by Cramer.

Callihan said afterward that it was unclear how much the guard had been able to see into the cell on that last check because Cramer reportedly was standing by or at the narrow door window.

“So we don’t know whether everything was kosher or had something already happened,” she said.

The prosecutor told the magistrate in asking that all charges be held for trial, that after the intercom call had been answered, “One individual came out alive (from the locked cell). The other died a violent death at the defendant’s hands.”

 

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