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2 former Pennsylvania prison guards convicted of mistreating inmates; a 3rd ex-guard acquitted

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YORK, Pennsylvania — Two former central Pennsylvania prison guards accused of mistreating inmates by forcing them to fight or do demeaning stunts have been convicted of charges in the case, but a third ex-guard was acquitted.

Jurors in York County on Friday convicted David Whitcomb Jr., 30, and Daniel Graff, 40, of official oppression, criminal conspiracy and harassment but acquitted Mark Haynes, 28, of similar charges.

Prosecutors say the three forced the inmates to engage in a range of activities for their entertainment, from eating a spoonful of cinnamon to taking pepper spray to the face, in exchange for food and other privileges. Defense attorneys argued that other current or former inmates made up the allegations.

Deputy Prosecutor Kelley Nelson said the prosecution was "ecstatic" by the convictions but disappointed that Haynes was acquitted, although she said he was less culpable than the others because he appeared to be following their lead.

The defendants declined comment after the verdict. Hayne's attorney, Chris Ferro, said he and his client are thankful for the acquittal, while Graff's attorney, Steve Rice, said he needed to talk to his client to "evaluate where we are and where we want to go."

Nelson took jurors through a timeline of what she called "circus antics" that she said happened around May 2013 in a supply closet where there was no surveillance video. She said inmates were bribed to wrestle each other, to allow themselves to be punched or hit in the arms and legs or to allow themselves to be "choked out" by Graff and Whitcomb.

Police said after one fight, the inmate who lost also lost his privilege to work in the prison hallways. One inmate, state police said, "was challenged to drink a gallon of milk in an hour, eat a spoon full of cinnamon ... snort a crushed up candy bottle cap, drink a bottle of water with pepper foam in it, and eat fruit with the peels still on them. When he completed a challenge he would get lounge food and coffee."

Nelson told jurors that inmates have the right to be treated with respect by the corrections officers guarding them, "not to be treated like a bunch of circus freaks."

Defense attorneys said the inmates had motive to lie, including not incurring the ire of prison officials. Rice suggested that prison officials wanted someone criminally charged after learning of the allegations because "it's damage-control time."

Ferro said inmates frittering away time in prison have "nothing better to do" than tell, and make up, stories.

"It's a complete fabrication. ... Clearly the lack of evidence proves it," Ferro said. "Don't ever forget, (prison) is an 'us and them' situation."

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