Inmate is guilty in slaying of guard


Published: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

PUNTA GORDA — The third and final suspect in the 2003 slaying of a female prison guard during an escape attempt has pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.

Michael Jones, 50, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Friday for the slaying of Darla Lathrem. He had already been serving a life term since 1988 for rape, but now is no longer eligible for parole.

Dwight Eaglin and Stephen Smith, both convicted of previous murders, were earlier convicted and sentenced to death for Lathrem's slaying.

The trio killed Lathrem when they attempted to escape from Charlotte Correctional Institution on June 11, 2003. They were part of a five-man work squad armed with tools and doing dormitory renovations.

Eaglin beat Lathrem, the only officer supervising the group, and inmate Charles Fuston to death with a sledgehammer. Smith lured Lathrem to her death. As part of the plea deal, the charge that he murdered Fuston was dropped.

Short of being involved in the escape attempt, there isn't much proof that Jones participated in the killings, Assistant State Attorney Dan Feinberg said. Even if the state had taken Jones to trial, prosecutors would have had a harder time getting him the death penalty.

Still, at least two of Lathrem's sisters were disappointed Jones didn't get the same sentence as the others.

"I still think he deserves it," one sister, Carol Miller said. "This is kind of bittersweet."

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