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Charles Manson isn't the only high-profile criminal in this Calif. prison

In the middle of tranquil cotton fields in a corner of Kings County sits a state prison that’s home to some of the most notorious criminals


By Lewis Griswold
The Fresno Bee

CORCORAN, Calif. — In the middle of tranquil cotton fields in a corner of Kings County sits a state prison that’s home to some of the most notorious criminals in California.

High-profile prisoners are often placed at Corcoran because it’s the only state prison with a Protective Housing Unit where they can be kept safe from other inmates who might attack them in hopes of earning bragging rights.

This Oct. 8, 2014 file photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows serial killer Charles Manson. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP, File)
This Oct. 8, 2014 file photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows serial killer Charles Manson. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP, File)

“If they are in the Protective Housing Unit, it is to protect them from the rest of the population,” said Bill Sessa, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

However, the prison system does not identify inmates assigned to the 47-bed Protective Housing Unit so as to maintain security. News reports, however, say that most if not all of the prison’s most famous felons are in such housing.

The prison houses about 3,325 inmates. Here’s a look at seven of them, based on news reports, websites and other public information.

Charles Manson, 82

Charles Manson, one of the most famous criminals in American history, allegedly used mind control over his Manson Family followers in the countercultural 1960s.

In the Tate-LaBianca murders that terrorized Los Angeles in 1969, Manson Family members murdered in cold blood seven people over two consecutive nights. Among them was actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant.

Manson was convicted of directing the murders and was sentenced to death.

But a California Supreme Court ruling in 1972 overturned all death sentences up to that point, so his sentence was changed to life in prison with the possibility of parole. He has been denied parole 12 times.

He’s frequently in the news, sometimes because his followers who were convicted of murder have come up for parole. On Wednesday, Leslie Van Houten, convicted in the LaBianca murders, was granted parole at a board hearing, although Gov. Jerry Brown could block it again.

Three years ago, Manson made headlines when a marriage license was taken out for him and 26-year-old Elaine Burton, who says he’s innocent, but the license expired and no marriage took place.

This year, he made headlines when he was taken to Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield for undisclosed medical issues. The tabloids reported that he needed treatment for internal bleeding.

Manson has apparently dealt with breathing problems for years. A writ of habeas corpus petition he filed in Kings County Superior Court in 2009 said he had been denied an “in quarters air machine to address periodic breathing difficulties.”

The judge said such decisions are up to the medical staff at Corcoran.

Two years earlier, Mansion filed a petition seeking the return of personal property confiscated by guards including “an air machine,” guitar, tapes and CDs, personal drawings, photos, a Levi’s jacket, a weightlifting belt and shoes. The petition was denied.

Manson, who was first sent to Corcoran shortly after it opened, has petitioned the court six times since 1990. His signature on the petitions included a swastika.

One petition said he’d been kept in solitary confinement and his eyeglasses taken from him. Two complained he’d been denied a visit by Sandra Collins, a Manson Family member. Another said the prison was not sending out his mail in a timely manner, while another sought a transfer to Napa State Hospital. All were denied.

He’s not a model prisoner and has been cited for assault, repeated possession of a weapon, threatening staff and possessing a cell phone.

Juan Corona, 83

Serial killer Juan Corona was turned down for parole last year and won’t be eligible for another five years, if he lives that long. He’s a serial killer who was convicted of murdering 25 migrant farm laborers.

He was arrested in 1971 after a farmer in Sutter County, who had hired Corona to supply farm laborers, called police when he found what turned out to be a shallow grave. The investigation led to shallow graves along the Feather River near Marysville.

Corona was convicted, retried and convicted again (his second lawyer said someone else committed the crimes), and was sentenced to life in prison. He lost an eye when an inmate attacked him and now has dementia.

He’s in a “sensitive needs” section at Corcoran, which like the Protective Housing Unit protects inmates from retaliation.

Why he killed the farmworkers is still a mystery.

Rodney Alcala, 73

Rodney Alcala is called the Dating Game Killer because in the middle of his homicidal spree in the 1970s, he appeared on the iconic TV show.

Although convicted of seven murders of young women and girls – five in California and two in New York state – he has confessed to more and investigators believe it could be more than a hundred.

The details of the crimes are awful enough that a TV movie, “Dating Game Killer,” is in the making.

He savagely beat and raped a girl in the 1960s but escaped capture. He was found four years later at a girls camp in New Hampshire. He was convicted in 1972 in California of kidnapping and assault but was released from prison about three years later.

Alcala was finally caught in 1979 when a 12-year-old girl in Orange County went missing and her dumped body was found. A sketch of a suspect made the rounds and a parole officer recognized him, leading to his arrest.

An earring from the victim was found in Alcala’s storage locker in Seattle along with jewelry from other victims.

Homicides initially linked to the Hillside Strangler turned out also to be his victims, who were raped and tortured.

The plot thickened when prison guards took a DNA sample from Alcala over his objections. The DNA connected him to four unsolved murders of beautiful women in the Los Angeles area in which the bodies were found in carefully arranged positions. Alcala had been a fine arts major at UCLA and police believe he took their photos in those positions.

He was found guilty of those murders and also pleaded guilty to two homicides in New York.

The YouTube video of his Dating Game appearance has garnered 2 million views. The bachelorette selected him as her date, but she found him creepy and the date never happened.

Police released photos of women found in the Seattle storage locker in hopes of establishing their identities. In one case, family members recognized a young woman whose body was found in Wyoming, where Alcala is now charged with murder. However, he’s too ill to be taken there.

Although sentenced to death, he’s at Corcoran instead of San Quentin State Prison because the prison system has the option of sending death-row inmates with health problems to Corcoran.

Dana Ewell, 46

For Fresno, it was the crime of the decade and maybe the century.

On Easter Sunday 1992, Dana Ewell’s father Dale, 59, mother Glee, 57, and sister Tiffany, 24, were shot to death at the family home in the Sunnyside neighborhood.

Was it a botched robbery? Nothing of value was taken, and that made detectives suspicious.

Ewell was out of town at the time, conveniently in the company of his girlfriend and her father, an FBI agent who stood by him. It took years for Fresno County Sheriff’s detective to piece together the details.

The motive appears to have been money. His father was a millionaire who owned an airplane sales company. Ewell inherited $8 million.

Investigators said he made a deal to share it with his Santa Clara University college buddy Joel Radovcich, who pulled the trigger. Radovcich lay in wait at the home and used a rifle with a homemade silencer to slay the Ewells when they walked in.

Ewell was found guilty but spared the death penalty and is serving three consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. (Radovcich got life in prison without parole plus five years.)

Since being sent to Corcoran, Ewell has found Jesus, according to the prisoner pen pal website writeaprisoner.com.

Phillip Garrido, 66

Phillip Garrido is the only non-murderer on this list, but his crimes made national and international headlines.

In 1991, after serving several years in federal prison for a kidnapping and rape, he and his wife Nancy kidnapped 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard from a street in South Lake Tahoe. They hid her for 18 years in a backyard hideaway at a home in Antioch in the East Bay.

Garrido raped her repeatedly, and she gave birth to two children when she was 14 and 17.

Eighteen years after the kidnapping, Garrido, accompanied by the two children, went to the University of California at Berkeley to ask about holding an event for a wacky religious organization he had started.

Campus police thought he was a strange character and did a background check on him, learned he was a registered sex offender and called his parole officer.

The parole officer was astonished to learn he had two children with him because he supposedly had no children.

When called to a meeting with his parole officer, Garrido brought along his wife, Dugard and the two children, and tried to say the two girls were relatives. Garrido and his wife were arrested.

Dugard was reunited with her mother and wound up being interviewed by Diane Sawyer of ABC News and writing two books.

Garrido pleaded guilty to kidnapping and sexual assault and was sentenced to 431 years to life in prison.

Michael Markhasev, 38

Michael Markhasev was born in the Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union and came to the United States as a child.

When he was 18, he shot and killed Ennis Cosby, 27, the son of comedian Bill Cosby, apparently in a botched robbery as Cosby was changing a flat tire at a Los Angeles freeway offramp about 1 a.m. on Jan. 16, 1997.

The National Inquirer offered a $100,000 reward, causing a friend of Markhasev to finger him.

He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

His lack of remorse at the trial was glaring to the Cosby family, who even so did not ask for the death penalty, but he later dropped the appeal of his conviction.

David Hawk, 59

David Hawk of Lemoore murdered his ex-wife Debbie Hawk, 46, a pharmaceutical representative, at her home in Hanford. She went missing June 13, 2006 after their children had left for a custody visit with their father.

Investigators found blood in her home and inside her van, which was abandoned in Fresno. About four months later, Hawk was named as a suspect and was arrested two years later.

But her body was not found right away. Even without it, Hawk was found guilty of first-degree murder as well as embezzling $300,000 from a trust fund for the children. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Last year, there was a major development in the case when Debbie Hawk’s bones were found by a farmworker plowing a remote field near Stratford in Kings County.

The farmworker initially thought they were animal bones, but he kept thinking about them, so he told his foreman. Together they dug up more bones, stopping when it became clear they were human.

There was no clothing or jewelry, but dental records were “a 100 percent match” to Debbie Hawk, officials said.

©2017 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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