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Former Baltimore correctional officer convicted in inmate beating death

Associated Press Writer

BALTIMORE- A former correctional officer was conficted Thursday in the beating and stomping death of an inmate at a troubled jail.

Dameon Christopher Woods, 34, was one of three guards charged. A jury convicted him of second-degree murder and depraved heart, as well as first- and second-degree assault in the death of Raymond Smoot.

The jury acquitted Woods of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter charges.

James Leonard Hatcher, 45, another former correctional officer who faced the same charges as Woods, was acquitted of all charges Thursday. Circuit Court Judge John M. Glynn this week dismissed a murder charge against former officer Nathan D. Colbert.

Smoot, 51, was beaten and stomped in his cell at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center in May 2005 after getting into an altercation with officers who had trouble getting him back into his cell. He was being held on a theft charge but had a history of disciplinary problems, jail officials have said.

Eight correctional officers were fired less than a month after the death. The attack prompted the FBI to open a civil rights investigation, which is still active.

The state-run facility, which opened in 1995, has been criticized for its overcrowded and unhealthy conditions. It was designed to process as many as 45,000 people a year but has handled more than double that amount.

Kenya Kelly, Smoot's oldest daughter, said she was shocked and disappointed that only one person was convicted. She faulted a sloppy investigation and said she believed more than three participated in the beating.

"It's kind of hard to take what happened today, because justice wasn't served to the fullest extent," said Kelly, whose family has sued the state.

Mark Cohen, a prosecutor, said after the verdict that he believed prosecutors pursued the matter as far as possible.

Defense attorneys had argued that their clients were scapegoats of a conspiracy hatched by the correctional officers who were truly responsible. Woods' attorney, Margaret Mead, said she planned to file an appeal.

"How could they have found him guilty of depraved heart?" she told reporters outside the courthouse. "It's completely a miscarriage of justice."

Depraved heart is distinguished from second-degree murder in that it is not intentional and requires an extreme disregard for human life.

Sentencing is set for Dec. 12. Woods faces up to 30 years in prison on the murder charge.

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