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Prison Officer Aims To Right Wrong In 1893 Death

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JACKSON (AP) – A Michigan Department of Corrections officer is seeking national recognition for a 19th century prison guard fatally poisoned by an inmate who was pardoned decades later.

Officer Jeff Reasoner has made George Haight’s case his cause since learning about it last year from a New Jersey corrections officer researching line-of-duty deaths. Reasoner has submitted an application for Haight to be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Jackson Citizen Patriot reported.

Reasoner, a member of the department’s Honor Guard, said it’s a “travesty” there’s no department record of Haight or his on-duty death in 1893 at the hands of prisoner Robert Latimer during a short-lived escape from the old state prison in Jackson. Latimer wasn’t prosecuted for the crime, but news reports unearthed by researchers found that he poisoned Haight’s lunch with prussic acid.

Reports say he admitted to the poisoning after being captured shortly after his escape but never intended to kill anyone.

Latimer was pardoned in 1935 after serving about 45 years of a life sentence for killing his mother. Reasoner calls that “an ultimate slap in the face” for Haight.

Still, Reasoner said he believes the decades-old injustice can be rectified by getting Haight’s name on the memorial wall. The application has been approved by his department’s deputy directors and awaits final sign-off by its director. If the fund that oversees the memorial receives the application by Dec. 31 and approves it, Haight’s name could among those added to the wall next year.

The group considered 632 cases for inclusion this year. Slightly more than half were approved, only 13 were denied, and the roughly 300 remaining await more information or final sign-off by the department or agency that employed the officer. The nonprofit organization requires that in order to be chosen for inclusion on the wall, the officer must have died in the course of duty and served directly for a governmental agency with the powers to arrest.

A correctional officer qualifies if he or she had primary responsibility and custody of a prisoner at the time of death.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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