A death row inmate known as a troublemaker was beaten to death in his cell by prison guards, authorities said Wednesday in announcing a murder investigation.
Frank Valdez, sentenced to die for the 1987 slaying of a prison guard, was found dead in his cell at the Florida State Prison in Starke after a brawl Saturday. Nine guards have been suspended pending an investigation.
Tim Moore, commissioner of the state Department of Law Enforcement, said his agents were questioning the guards, trying to find "somebody to come forward and tell the truth."
"The time has come for them to decide who wants to be a defendant and who wants to be a witness," he said. "And I'm talking about a defendant in a murder trial, not a minor infraction."
Valdez, 36, was in a wing for particularly violent prisoners and had been known as a troublemaker. Guards said he had been found with knives in his cell in the past.
A lawyer for the guards acknowledged a fight in which Valdez was badly bruised but said that the injuries didn't lead to his death and that Valdez was given a checkup and cleared to return to his cell.
Prosecutors said Valdez had broken ribs and boot marks on his body.
Bill Johnson, a police union lawyer for the guards, said during searches of guards' homes, law enforcement officers seized the clothes and boots they were wearing the day Valdez died.
Valdez shot and killed a prison guard while trying to help a friend escape. Valdez was free at the time.