Murder charge filed against Sac County lifer in killing of cellmate at Susanville prison

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Prosecutors in Susanville, California have filed a murder charge against a Sacramento County man for allegedly killing his cell mate in early January of this year.

Last month, special prosecutor Jordan Funk, working under Lassen County District Attorney Melyssah Rios, filed charges of murder and prison weapon possession against John C. Connell, 55, in connection to the death of 40-year-old Benjy S. Wade in his cell at High Desert State Prison the night of January 8, 2022.

According to a Medical Examiner’s report, Connell yelled out to corrections officers at around 5:00 PM, telling them his cellmate was dead.

“Hey, I have a body in here, can you get it out?” he called out from cell 107.

Corrections officers Magnum and Alvarez approached the cell, finding Wade lying face-up on the ground in a pool of blood. An orange beanie covered his face and an 11-inch shiv wrapped in cloth was stuck in his mouth.

Wade was stabbed 23 times in the head and neck, and four times in the torso. The attack fractured his skull, broke a blood vessel in his brain, and punctured his right lung. His alveolar bone, which surrounds the teeth and forms tooth sockets, was also fractured.

Officials isolated Connell from the cell and tried to perform what little CPR they could on Wade as they whisked him off to the prison medical center on a basket gurney. That process was stopped at the medical center due to “obvious signs of death.” Fifteen minutes later, a doctor pronounced Wade dead over the telephone.

Wade’s homicide came as one of many in California’s prison system amidst an uptick in murders behind prison walls. According to data released by CDCR, 10 attacks prison officials have described as “suspected homicides” have occurred in 2022.

Connell will appear in court for arraignment on September 16th, according to online court records. He is represented by attorney Robert Burns, who didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Connell was first sentenced to prison in 1989 to serve a five-year sentence in an armed robbery case. While incarcerated, he was convicted and sentenced in 1998 to life without parole on an escape charge, which was his third strike. His sentence is being served concurrent with his ’89 sentence, as well as two other convictions out of Placer County.

Wade, 40, was sent to High Desert State Prison from Colusa County, five months before his death, to serve out a 13-year sentence for second-degree robbery with the use of a firearm.

Ethan Biando
Ethan Biando is a freelance journalist from Sacramento. His writing focuses on crime, courts, and policing. Find him on Twitter @ethanb822

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