According to a federal lawsuit, Thomas Lee Rutledge, 44, died in his Alabama prison cell two years ago after the heat in the mental health unit he was housed in rose to an extreme level, causing him to be “literally baked to death in his cell,” AL.com reports.
The lawsuit alleges prison guards did nothing to help despite knowing of the extreme heat in the cells. The lawsuit also alleges officials at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility also knew the heating system in the mental health dorm, the T-unit, was broken and that other men had died from extreme heat due to a broken heater, and still left the men, many of whom were on mental health medications that made them especially vulnerable to heat.
Corrections investigator Clark Hopper said opening the door to the cell on the night of Rutledge’s death was like “opening an oven and when you (are) getting something out of the oven it hits your face.”
“When he dropped his (meal door), it was, it was just, pardon the language, but it was hotter than three hells when it dropped,” Hopper said.
Rutledge was reportedly found on December 7, 2020, with a body temperature of 109 degrees, “in his cell sitting near the window of his cell with his head/face out the window believed attempting to breath/obtain cool/cold air,” according to an autopsy. Although the autopsy deemed the death an accident, Rutledge’s attorney says otherwise.
“Human beings cannot survive without remedial measures in temperatures above 101-104 for extended periods of time,” the lawsuit states.
According to AL.com, Rutledge spent over half his life in an Alabama prison for a double murder he committed as a juvenile in 1993. “A paranoid schizophrenic, Rutledge at age 17 shot two young men to death in the early morning hours after a small gathering of young men smoked marijuana together at the house of one of their grandmothers,” AL.com reports. “Originally, he was sentenced to life without parole. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that that inmates serving life without parole for murders committed when they were juveniles should be resentenced with a chance at parole. Rutledge was resentenced in 2017.”