Three prison deaths work their way through court

Written for the Argus Observer. Published on May 20, 2015.

Terry Lapich, 32, who allegedly killed a fellow Snake River Correctional Institution inmate in February 2012, appeared via video in court on Monday.

The hearing was for the court to consider the review of new documents, according to Malheur County chief deputy district attorney, Erin Landis. The nature of the documents is still confidential, but the court will reconvene on July 2 to do the actual review.

“The one we had [Monday] was regarding the court’s review of the documents and the [hearing] in July is to review them,” Landis explained.

Lapich was formally charged with aggravated murder in November 2013 for the February 2012 death of his cellmate, Michael Hagen, 28.

Hagen was found unresponsive in his cell on February 3, 2012 and died at a Boise hospital the following day. According to an article by the Associated Press in February 2015, Hagen had been sent to prison in 2010 for 17 years after robbing a Portland check-cashing store and beating a clerk.

According to the article, Hagen had informed prison officials that his life was in danger because he refused to do tattoos for Lapich and other members of a white supremacist gang.

After hearing about the threat to his life, prison officials approved a transfer for Hagen out of SRCI, but before that could happen, Hagen was sent to a new cell within SRCI and Lapich was his new cellmate.

Less than two hours later, according to the Associated Press article, Hagen was found unconscious and surrounded by blood with obvious marks of assault on his head.

Lapich’s case is one of three murder-related cases currently ongoing at SRCI, according to Landis.

The first occurred in May 2011, when Chris Soren Lange was attacked and killed in one of SRCI’s recreation yards. Fellow inmate James Samuel DeFrank Jr. was charged with Lange’s murder.

His case is currently working its way through the courts and his next hearing will be to determine fitness to proceed to trial, which means the court will be reviewing his mental state.

“He was previously found to be unfit to proceed and they sent him to a state hospital,” Landis explained. “The court hasn’t set a date [for the next hearing] yet.”

The third death currently under investigation is the June 2, 2013 death of SRCI inmate Jason Gould, 23. His cellmate, Thomas Riffenburg, 27 is charged with the crime and is set to enter a plea on August 24.

“These cases take a long time to get through the system,” Landis said.

Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris told the Argus Observer in 2013 that these types of crimes take time because there is the potential for capital punishment, or the death penalty in these cases.

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