8th death row inmate dies at San Quentin as COVID-19 surge continues in prison

Razor wire encircles the exercise yard at San Quentin.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Another inmate at San Quentin has died from what is believed to be complications from COVID-19, bringing the death toll at California’s oldest prison to 13.

John M. Beames, 67, was pronounced dead Tuesday at an outside hospital, according to a news release from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The cause of death will be determined by a coroner.

Beames had been on death row since 1995 after being convicted of first-degree murder in Tulare County for fatally beating his girlfriend’s 15-month-old daughter the year before. The child had previously suffered a broken leg, broken ribs, burns and bruising, and evidence at trial showed she had been hung by her neck.


There are currently 717 people on California’s death row. Beames was the eighth death row prisoner believed to have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

His death follows that of inmate Troy A. Ashmus, who also was believed to have died from complications related to COVID-19. Ashmus had been on death row since 1986.

At least 7,123 state prisoners have contracted the coronavirus and 40 have died, according to state figures.

San Quentin has been hit hard, with the most COVID-19 cases and the second-most deaths in the state prison system, second to the California Institution for Men in Chino, which has reported 19 deaths. The virus rapidly spread throughout San Quentin after the Chino facility transferred 121 prisoners to the Marin County site.

There are more than 2,090 cases at San Quentin, including 132 new infections in the last 14 days. More than 860 inmates currently have the virus, the bulk of the more than 1,930 prisoners statewide who are infected.

Of the 3,511 total inmates at the prison, roughly 35% have been tested for the virus over the last two weeks. The state recently shifted its focus on testing to prioritize the most vulnerable individuals, including those living in institutional settings, such as prisons.

On Tuesday, California surpassed 409,000 COVID-19 infections and more than 7,890 deaths.

Newsom reports that 12,807 new coronavirus infections have been reported in the past 24 hours — a record high — bringing the state’s total to 413,576.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.