Tulare Child Killer Dies of COVID-Related Illness on Death Row
Tulare County child killer John M. Beames died Tuesday while awaiting execution for the 1994 torture and murder of 15-month old Cassie McMains.
Beames, 67, was sentenced to death row in San Quentin State Prison following his conviction in 1995.
He died at a hospital outside the prison, officials said. His exact cause of death will be determined by a coroner.
Beames is the eighth inmate on San Quentin’s death row to have died of apparent complications from the coronavirus, officials said. The San Francisco Bay facility is experiencing the state’s largest prison outbreak of the virus.
According to a 2007 state Supreme Court decision upholding his conviction and sentence, Beames lived with a woman and her two children, including the victim, Cassie.
She bled to death in 1994 after investigators said her liver was hit so hard that it was split nearly in half. Medical experts at his trial said she had suffered numerous injuries for weeks before her death, including burns, broken bones, black eyes and ligature marks.
Defense attorneys said the child had a brittle bone disease, that her burns and her fatal liver injury were accidental, and that Beames fed and clothed her.
There have now been 14 total virus-related deaths at San Quentin, where there are 717 condemned inmates on death row.
San Quentin currently has 860 active virus cases — more than triple the number at any other prison. Nearly 1,200 inmates have recovered.
More Than 1,900 Active Cases in California’s Prisons
California Institution for Men in Southern California has the most inmate deaths, with 19. There have been eight other inmate deaths scattered among four additional prisons.
System-wide there are more than 1,900 active virus cases, and nearly 5,000 inmates have recovered. At least 870 employees are currently infected, and three have died.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
In anticipation of further outbreaks, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar on Wednesday ordered prison officials to vacate or reserve at least 100 beds in each of the state’s 35 prisons for isolating and quarantining inmates. That can include using tents, gymnasiums or other converted spaces, as have been used at San Quentin.
Tigar stopped short of following the recommendation of a federal official who said each prison should empty 20% of its population.
But once the initial space is cleared, Tigar said officials should decide if more space is needed based on health considerations, without regard to whether inmates would have to be released. If officials can’t meet that requirement, attorneys representing inmates say it should prompt Tigar to impanel a special three-judge court that could order more releases.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered early releases that officials expect to lower the population by about 10%, or more than 10,000 inmates. The state is keeping an additional 7,000 convicts in local jails instead of transferring them to state prisons.
(Associated Press contributed to this article.)