A 71-year-old man who died last week while serving time on San Quentin’s Death Row tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the first known death of a coronavirus patient inside California’s oldest state prison.
Richard Stitely’s test results, announced by Marin County officials late Monday morning, come as a monstrous outbreak continues to overwhelm San Quentin State Prison, now infecting more than 1,000 incarcerated people and 89 employees at the facility.
As of Monday evening, more than one out of every four people incarcerated at San Quentin were infected.
Stitely, who had refused to be tested, was found dead Wednesday night. His official cause, mode and manner of death are still pending additional investigation, and as of Monday afternoon no San Quentin deaths were counted on the prison health care system’s official COVID-19 tracking website.
Roger Fielding, Marin County’s chief deputy coroner, said Stitely’s forensic postmortem examination and toxicology testing are scheduled for Tuesday.
Stitely was convicted in Los Angeles County for the rape and murder of 47-year-old Carol Unger, who was last seen leaving a bar in Reseda with Stitely on Jan. 19, 1990. A jury sentenced him to death on Sept. 14, 1992, and he was admitted to Death Row on Sept. 23, 1992.
Officials on Monday said there are 196 confirmed cases among San Quentin’s condemned population, amounting to about one in four of the 725 people on Death Row.
Prison officials have not released a detailed number of cases by unit inside the facility.
To date, 22 incarcerated people have died and more than 4,800 others been infected from the coronavirus throughout California’s prison system — including 1,500 new cases in the last two weeks.
Sixteen of those deaths came from the California Institution for Men in Chino, which until recently had the largest outbreak among the 35 state-owned prisons.
San Quentin’s case count recently overtook Chino, and the prison now holds at least 500 more patients with active COVID-19 cases than any other facility in the state.
The Bay Area facility had zero cases among its population until early June, when a poorly executed transfer of 121 men from Chino brought the virus to San Quentin. While prison officials said all of the Chino men had been tested before getting on buses, The Chronicle reporting revealed many had not been tested for weeks prior to the May 30 transfer.
The Chino transfer, which also sent 66 men to another state prison in Corcoran (Kings County), touched off outbreaks at both receiving facilities, and was deemed a “significant failure” by a federal judge overseeing medical treatment at California prisons.
As of late last week, prison officials were gearing up for yet another transfer, planning to move as many as 150 men out of San Quentin to North Kern State Prison near Bakersfield. But the transfer was ultimately called off after two of the men bound for Kern tested positive.
On Monday afternoon prison staffers were setting up tents on San Quentin grounds to make space for coronavirus patients.
“Air-conditioned tent structures are in the process of being set up to help provide on-site locations for additional physical distancing in housing and for medical triage,” officials said in an email.
On Wednesday, state lawmakers will hold a Senate oversight hearing to find out why the coronavirus has surged at various lockups across the state.