Three men were found dead in a high-security Arkansas prison within 24 hours, a state Department of Correction spokesman said Monday.
James DePriest, assistant director and chief legal counsel at the agency, said the men were discovered Sunday and Monday morning at the Varner Unit, which is 28 miles south of Pine Bluff off Highway 65 in Lincoln County.
Edward Morris, 34, was pronounced dead Sunday at 10:35 a.m., DePriest said. Stephen Kantzer, 38, and Marlon Miles, 41, were pronounced dead around 1:30 a.m. Monday.
The bodies of each of the prisoners have been sent to the state Crime Lab to determine a cause of death, but DePriest said: “It would not surprise us if it was illicit drugs or illicit substances involved.”
An Arkansas State Police spokesman said evidence was found on or near two of the victims that would help the Crime Lab determine if drugs were involved.
Both Miles and Morris were housed in separate cells at Varner Supermax, the state’s highest-security lockup, the officials said. Kantzer was housed in general population at the other side of Varner, according to state police spokesman Bill Sadler.
Neither Sadler nor DePriest said they had information about other inmates being treated as of late Monday.
Arkansas has had noted struggles with the flow of contraband, especially a synthetic drug known as K2, into its prisons. State Prisons Director Wendy Kelley testified to lawmakers about the issue earlier this month.
Morris and Miles were serving five-year terms, according to the spokesman. Kantzer was serving 20 years for Pulaski County drug offenses, DePriest said.
Miles was serving time for multiple offenses in Pulaski and Lincoln counties, including two possession of a firearm charges, a criminal attempt at second-degree sexual assault, theft by receiving, aggravated assault on a correctional employee and an instance of a prisoner in possession of a weapon, according to information from his inmate profile.
Morris’ five-year term stemmed from offenses in Ashley County that included sexual indecency with a child, theft of property, residential burglary, second-degree escape and second-degree battery, according to online court documents.
DePriest said the Arkansas State Police had been immediately notified of the deaths and the agency’s investigation is ongoing.
“We don’t know of any connection between the three of them," the spokesman added.
Check back for updates on this developing story and read Tuesday's Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.