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Prosecutors want extra restraints on ‘most dangerous man in DOC’ when he goes to court

Prosecutors have asked that the inmate appear at his upcoming trial secured to a wheeled restraint chair, wearing a mesh spit mask over his face and with an electrified security belt around his waist

By Patrick Buchnowski and Mark Pesto
The Tribune-Democrat

SOMERSET, Pa. — If Somerset County prosecutors have their way, a state prison inmate described by officials as “the most dangerous person in the (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)” will appear at his upcoming trial secured to a wheeled restraint chair, wearing a mesh spit mask over his face and with an electrified security belt around his waist.

District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser asked President Judge D. Gregory Geary on Tuesday to allow the added restraints to be applied to William Amos Cramer, 27, who allegedly tried to slash an SCI-Somerset corrections officer with a razor late last year. Cramer is set to stand trial on charges including attempted homicide and aggravated assault.

As justification, Lazzari-Strasiser cited Cramer’s violent past, which includes the alleged 2017 razor attack on the SCI-Somerset officer; multiple other assaults on prison staff members; and the 2012 murder of his Cambria County Prison cellmate, for which he is serving a life sentence.

Cramer, who is defending himself in court, appeared before Geary on Tuesday via video from SCI-Forest in Marienville, Forest County, and argued that the added restraints would be unfairly prejudicial.

“If the jury sees me like that, they’re going to believe I’m guilty before I speak one sentence,” he said, adding that he was not required to wear a spit mask during previous court appearances.

Geary has not yet ruled on whether Cramer will be subjected to the added restraints.

Cramer’s trial has not yet been scheduled. According to court documents, Tiffany Stanley, a Somerset attorney, has been appointed to serve as Cramer’s standby attorney, a term for a lawyer who is appointed to assist a client who has invoked his right to self-representation.

Lt. Kenneth Goodman, of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, testified on Tuesday that Cramer is “very creative” in fashioning the items at his disposal into weapons.

“When presented with an opportunity, he takes advantage,” Goodman said.

“Cramer is the most dangerous person in the DOC. Would you agree?” Lazzari-Strasiser asked.

“I would,” Goodman said.

Cramer, a Fayette County native, was receiving medical treatment at Somerset Hospital on Dec. 3, 2017, when he pulled out a razor blade and lunged at a guard, according to a Jan. 17 press release issued by Chief Randy Cox, of the Somerset Borough Police Department.

“Cramer’s stated intention was to slit the throat of the officer,” Cox wrote in the press release. “According to Cramer, he had accessed the razor blade inside SCI-Somerset, swallowed it and then passed it in a bathroom at the hospital. He was able to conceal it on his person until his attack on the officer.”

Cox added: “Apparently Cramer, a self-avowed white supremacist, viewed the victim officer as being friendly with African-American inmates at SCI-Somerset and found this offensive.”

When questioned by Lazzari-Strasiser on Tuesday, Cramer acknowledged that he has previously ingested and passed contraband items, including a razor.

His violent acts have continued since that alleged attack, Lazzari-Strasiser argued on Tuesday.

“Since this charge, he’s had misconduct. He’s ingested metal while in the (restricted housing unit), and he has physically attacked staff,” she said.

State police in Marienville charged Cramer on Friday with attacking a nurse at SCI-Forest on Sept. 29. He faces charges including aggravated assault and assault by a life prisoner in that case.

According to a criminal complaint, the nurse attempted to take Cramer’s blood pressure after he complained that he wasn’t feeling well. When she attempted to wrap the blood pressure cuff around his arm, Cramer allegedly pulled her right arm into the cell and slashed her with “a makeshift cutting weapon,” then yelled obscenities and taunted her.

Cramer had previously seriously injured two corrections officers in racially motivated attacks.

He used a razor-like weapon to slit the throat of a Hispanic guard at SCI-Coal Township in August 2014. In that case, he claimed that he was preemptively defending himself from racial prejudice by non-white inmates and guards, according to a contemporary report in The Daily Item, of Sunbury.

And while imprisoned at SCI-Mahanoy in November 2015, Cramer feigned heart trouble in order to get guards to open his cell, then lunged at a guard and slashed him repeatedly with a makeshift shank, according to The Daily Item. He told an investigator that he wanted to kill the guard because he was too friendly to black inmates.

The SCI-Mahanoy attack happened less than 48 hours after Cramer was found guilty of attempted homicide in the SCI-Coal Township attack.

Cramer told an investigator “that he had no remorse for the incident and would continue to attack correctional officers because he had nothing else to lose,” police wrote in a report, according to The Daily Item.

“The defendant related (that) he is already serving life sentences and (that) there is nothing more anyone else can take from him.”

Cramer has been serving a life sentence since November 2013 for strangling William Sherry, 28, of Johnstown, his cellmate at Cambria County Prison.

In a slur-filled note he wrote to another inmate after the murder, he stated that he killed Sherry because he believed that Sherry, a white man, had fathered a child with a black woman, according to a 2014 opinion by a Superior Court of Pennsylvania judge who denied Cramer’s appeal of his sentence.