Authorities in Phoenix, Arizona, have charged a white supremacist inmate with the murder of another inmate at the Fourth Avenue Jail in Maricopa County.
Pete Van Winkle, 26, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood racist prison gang, allegedly beat to death fellow prisoner Robert Leroy Cotton, 28, on May 1, 2008. It has been reported that Cotton was also once an Aryan Brotherhood member, but had recently renounced his affiliation.
The men were in housing for dangerous inmates, just one category down from solitary confinement. In their housing unit, no more than five inmates are allowed out of their cells at a time, for only four hours a day.
Video surveillance revealed that the men were sitting together at a table when Cotton made a nodding gesture toward Van Winkle. Cotton then got up and went upstairs into Van Winkle's cell. Van Winkle followed Cotton and at some point after entering the cell allegedly began attacking him. Court documents state that Van Winkle stomped on Cotton's head and choked him for 15 to 20 minutes while in the cell.
At the time of the attack, the cell was out of sight and sound of the security tower and all the monitors. Video surveillance shows an inmate walking by the assault three times, but detention officers were never alerted.
It was not until Van Winkle allegedly dragged Cotton's body out of the cell and attempted to lift him up and throw him over the second floor railing that a detention officer spotted the men. Detention officers arrived at the scene, where they found Van Winkle covered in blood. Officers attempted CPR on Cotton but were unable to revive him. Van Winkle was arrested and rebooked for first-degree murder.
Van Winkle has an extensive and violent criminal history. He served almost seven years for trafficking in stolen property and theft. According to prison records, he was classified in the highest risk category and had frequent assaults on, or fights with, other inmates as well as staff. In February 2008, Phoenix police arrested Van Winkle for attempted second-degree murder and misconduct involving weapons for the alleged shooting death of an Asian man. He has been in jail awaiting trial on those charges.
Cotton had prior convictions for nonviolent offenses, and had been in jail for about a year awaiting sentencing for driving a stolen vehicle and drug possession. He served time in state prison in 2002 and 2004.
On November 17, 2009, a judge in Maricopa County Superior Court sentenced Aryan Brotherhood member Pete Van Winkle to death for the murder of a fellow inmate at the Fourth Avenue Jail.
On November 9, a jury convicted Van Winkle, 27, of first-degree murder for the beating death of inmate Robert Leroy Cotton on May 1, 2008.
The jury also convicted Van Winkle of all the charges he was originally incarcerated awaiting trial for attempted second-degree murder, aggravated assault and weapons misconduct and the judge sentenced him to 24 ½ years in prison on those charges.