Editor’s note: Many of the details in this post are drawn from the blog of a death row inmate, and as with much of the information about what happens behind the prison walls, I have no way of verifying with absolute certainty what that inmate says. Some details have been corroborated by other prison visitors and inmates, but without official details, there is little hope of ever knowing for certain what took place.
After several months of illness, which I’ve previously covered here and here, 49-year-old death row inmate Tom Wyatt died Friday, Feb. 8. The cause of death was not disclosed, due to federal health privacy laws.
Wyatt’s failing health has been documented by his friend and fellow inmate William Van Poyck, who blogs at Death Row Diary. According to Van Poyck’s posts, Wyatt first became ill in August 2012, when Van Poyck wrote Wyatt “groggily awoke to find his face and pillow covered in blood and his tongue bitten about half off. He had no memory of what occurred.”
Van Poyck writes that over the next few days following what he suspected was a seizure or stroke, Tom’s health continued to deteriorate with symptoms including slurred speech, severe headaches and signs of compromised mental capacity. He was seen by a dentist for damage caused to his teeth during the incident where he injured his tongue, but was not treated by a doctor for his illness, despite both his and Van Poyck’s attempts to seek treatment.
Van Poyck’s account states that on Tuesday, September 11 at 7:40pm “I heard Tom collapse in his cell.” Only then was Wyatt transported to Shands Hospital in Gainesville and seen by a doctor, where he underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his brain. Doctors also found a cancerous mass in his chest at that time. Eighteen hours after his surgery, he was removed from the hospital and returned to his cell at Florida State Prison. From Van Poyck’s account:
“That was on the 13th. For the next 5 days he laid on his bunk, often moaning, while receiving no medication at all (despite the surgeons having prescribed many drugs).
Finally, after 5 days he began getting some, but not all, of the prescribed meds (no pain meds, of course). Importantly, he did not get the most crucial one, the one to stop his brain from swelling. So he was suffering mightily until just 5 or 6 days ago when he finally saw a free-world oncologist who was shocked that he was not getting the brain swelling medication.
After another 3 days he finally began getting that one and he told me the relief was immediate. I knew it was bad when he kept telling me he had fluid coming out of his ears. He’s been told he’ll get chemo and radiation treatment but that remains to be seen.”
In the most recent update on Wyatt’s health, Van Poyck wrote that “my old friend Tom—just 4 months ago had a hale and hardy soul, now a mere envelope of cancer-gnawed flesh and bones —was removed from his cell by wheelchair, too weak to offer anything but meager protest, and transferred to the one place he dreaded going to, our notoriously filthy, blood spattered clinic holding cell.”
At the time of his death, Wyatt still had an appeal pending in the federal courts.
Wyatt was sentenced to death in 1991 for the 1988 killings of three Domino’s pizza employees. According to the case summary, Wyatt and another man, Michael Lovette, escaped from a prison work crew in North Carolina and fled to Florida. In Jacksonville, they stole a car, which contained a .38 caliber handgun. They used the gun to rob a Vero Beach Domino’s and fatally shot three of the employees. Officials said Wyatt also killed a Tampa-area woman.
As far as I know, Wyatt is the third Florida death row inmate to die of causes other than execution in 2013. In January, Jesus Delgado committed suicide and Peter Ventura, the second-oldest inmate on the row, died, presumably of natural causes although no official details have been released.