Police: Inmates killed 2 Iowa prison staff in escape attempt

The inmates used hammers to attack prison staff members

Associated Press

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Inmates used hammers to attack prison staff members during a failed attempt to escape an Iowa prison, killing a nurse and correctional officer, kidnapping a third employee and severely injuring an inmate who intervened, authorities said Wednesday.

Those killed in the attack Tuesday at the Anamosa State Penitentiary were identified as 50-year-old staff nurse Lorena Schulte, of Cedar Rapids, and 46-year-old Officer Robert McFarland, of Ely. Both had worked at the prison in the city of Anamosa in eastern Iowa for more than a decade.

This Dec. 25, 2017, file photo shows Anamosa State Penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa. (Liz Martin/The Gazette via AP, File)
This Dec. 25, 2017, file photo shows Anamosa State Penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa. (Liz Martin/The Gazette via AP, File)

Both suffered blunt force trauma to the back of the head and died when they were attacked by hammers during the attack carried out by inmates Michael Dutcher, 28, and Thomas Woodard, 39, said Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent Richard Rahn.

Dutcher and Woodard had a plan to escape and gained access to the prison infirmary on Tuesday at around 10:15 a.m. under the ruse that they were there to repair equipment, he said. They were able to get into a break room, where they shattered glass and tried to use a work tool known as a grinder to cut the metal bars and escape, he said.

McFarland was in the break room and was attacked with a hammer, Rahn said. Schulte was also hit with a hammer when she, like McFarland, tried to stop their escape attempt, Rahn said.

Inmate McKinley Roby was attacked when he went to try to render aid to the injured employees and is hospitalized with serious injuries, he said.

Another staff member who tried to intervene was grabbed by Dutcher and told she would be “next” if she didn't cooperate, but she got free when Dutcher ran out of the room, Rahn said. Eventually, other staff restrained Dutcher and Woodard.

The two had access to the tools through a prison work program, and the prison is investigating whether security protocols were followed.

“Two public servants were taken from this world by an act that can only be described as pure evil,” Iowa Department of Corrections Director Beth Skinner said at a news conference.

AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan, whose union represents Iowa prison workers, called the victims experienced and dedicated public servants.

“My heart aches that this happened to these two individuals,” he said. “We have to bury two of our coworkers, two of our friends, two of our people that are really good people.”

He said their deaths illustrate how thousands of prison staff members put their lives on the line every day when they go to work. Mourners left flowers and balloons outside the prison, which dates to the 1870s.

Gov. Kim Reynolds recognized the victims at a news conference, asking residents “to join me in lifting up their grieving families, friends and colleagues in prayer.”

“It's hard to understand such a senseless loss but it's my hope that the prayers of our state may offer some sense of peace and comfort during this difficult time,” she said.

Reynolds also offered support to leaders of the prison and the Iowa Department of Corrections, saying they were handling “an extremely difficult situation."

The Anamosa prison, which houses 950 inmates and has medium- and maximum-security units, has a history of inmates committing violence against staff, including several assaults in the last year. But the deaths were the first of a prison employee killed by an Iowa inmate since at least 1975, Skinner said.

Dutcher and Woodard have been charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping, Rahn said. Iowa does not have the death penalty but first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Dutcher was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2015 for an armed bank robbery in the tiny town of Holstein, the robberies of two motels in Sioux City and an unrelated drug case. In each robbery, authorities said he was armed with a gun or butcher knife and demanded cash from workers.

Woodard, originally of Union, Nebraska, was sentenced to 25 years in 2017, after he was found guilty of first-degree robbery and burglary in a 2014 home invasion and robbery in Sioux City. Police say Woodard and another man forced a woman who answered the door to the ground, taped her to a chair, stole her cash and cellphone and poured bleach on the tape and her clothing to clear their fingerprints.

Schulte had worked at the prison since 2007 and previously worked at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. McFarland had worked at the prison since 2008.

The victims and inmates had been working and living in a prison devastated by the coronavirus. More than 865 inmates at Anamosa had tested positive over the last year and six died of complications related to the virus, both the highest of any prison in Iowa, according to state data. At least 155 staff members in Anamosa, or nearly half of its staff, had also reported positive tests to the department.

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