Inmate’s death leads to lawsuit

JOHNSTOWN – The estate of a Northern Cambria man is suing Cambria County over his murder 19 months ago in the county prison in Ebensburg.

The civil rights lawsuit charges that William Henry Sherry, 28, suffered “cruel and unusual punishment” when he was placed in the same cell as William Amos Cramer, 22, of Fayette County in August 2012.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Johnstown on behalf of Sherry’s estate by Lisa Huey of Indiana County, the grandmother to one of Sherry’s two sons and the administratrix of the estate. It names Cambria County, a prison corrections officer named John Frank and Cramer as defendants. The suit claims that Cambria County Prison officials ignored warnings that Cramer was dangerous when they placed Sherry in the same cell with him.

Sherry’s body was found hanging from a bunk bed just a few hours later.

Cramer allegedly confessed to the murder in a note sent to another inmate. In October, a Cambria County jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated assault and assault by a prisoner.

Cramer was sentenced to life in prison plus 45 to 90 months by Cambria County Judge Patrick Kiniry on Nov. 5.

At the time of the killing, Sherry had been arrested on a parole violation for not paying $250 in costs and for not appearing at a scheduled court hearing.

Cramer was in the county prison to face charges of aggravated assault, simple assault and harassment of corrections officers, offenses that occurred while he was serving 4 1/2 to nine years at the now-closed State Correctional Institution at Cresson for criminal attempted robbery and simple assault.

The lawsuit makes two primary charges, that Cambria County Prison officials acted with “deliberate indifference” when they placed Sherry, who entered pleas in May 2012 to fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer and driving while suspended, in a cell with Cramer.

It came out during Cramer’s murder trial that he had a “z” classification in the state correctional system, which meant, the lawsuit states, he was not to be housed with other inmates.

The classification was provided to local prison employees, the lawsuit claims.

According to the civil lawsuit, Cramer bound Sherry by the hands, feet and ankles and placed a sock in his mouth, then strangled him. He allegedly hung Sherry from the bunk bed to make it look like a suicide.

The murder occurred, it is charged, after a cell check by the officer.

Cramer, in a letter to another inmate, used several racial and other slurs in referring to Sherry.

The letter described what he had done to Sherry and at the bottom it contained the term “Pearl Kings” surrounded by two swastikas.

The lawsuit requests unspecified money damages against the county, the corrections officer and Cramer.

Cambria County Solicitor Tom Leiden said Friday afternoon he could not comment on the lawsuit because he had not seen it.

Leiden said Cambria officials knew there was a possibility of a lawsuit in the Sherry death, which occurred Aug. 1, 2012.

The case, filed late Wednesday by attorneys Adam R. Gorzelsky and Susan Williams of Greensburg, has been referred to the Alternative Dispute Resolution Program to attempt to resolve the issues without court action.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.