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Probe: Keyes 'mistakenly' issued razor he used to kill himself

Ben Anderson

An internal investigation by the Alaska Department of Corrections found that Israel Keyes, a confessed serial killer awaiting trial in Alaska who killed himself on Dec. 2, was "mistakenly" issued the razor that he used to slit his wrist during his suicide. Exactly how that razor was "mistakenly" issued was not immediately clear.

Keyes was charged with murdering 18-year-old Anchorage barista Samantha Koenig in February of last year, and had been returned to Alaska after a long trek across the American Southwest before his arrest in Texas in March. During his time in custody, he admitted murdering at least seven other people across the U.S. in a killing spree that lasted for more than a decade.

The DOC said that Keyes was under close watch following an attempted escape from the courtroom during a routine hearing in May of last year. In that incident, Keyes had somehow broken free of his ankle restraints and leapt over the low barrier separating him from the viewing area of the courtroom. He was quickly subdued by U.S. marshals and courtroom security.

As a result of that escape attempt, the DOC imposed "enhanced security measures" on Keyes.

"These measures included full restraints, a two-officer escort any time Keyes was out of his cell, restrictions on possession of razors and pencils, and daily strip searches and cell searches," a statement on the DOC investigation said. "Officers were advised to use extreme caution when dealing with Keyes."

Keyes was described by investigators and the attorneys who conducted interviews with him during his time in jail as meticulous and very smart, and the extra precautions taken by DOC officials would seem to reflect that. 

Despite the additional security, Keyes was found in September to be in possession of "an object" that could act as a key to his handcuffs, the DOC said. In response to that, Keyes was sentenced to serve 15 days in punitive segregation. That sentence began on Nov. 28. Four days later, he was found dead in his cell after slicing his left wrist open with a razor blade embedded in a pencil and tying a noose around his neck and connecting it to his ankle to strangle himself.

Keyes was last seen alive at 10:13 p.m. on Dec. 1, just before lights out. Despite regular checks on his cell, he wasn't discovered to be dead until just before 6 a.m. the next morning, when the lights came back on and a corrections officer was able to observe blood on Keyes's bed and the floor surrounding his bunk.

Though the report sheds some light on Keyes's final months in prison, it doesn't reveal much about how Keyes was able to obtain the razor used in his suicide. DOC spokeswoman Kaci Schroeder said that although prisoners in segregation would have some access to personal items, similar to prisoners in general population, Keyes was a special situation.

"We tailor that type of punishment to each individual," Schroeder said. "In his case, paperclips and related metal type objects were also restricted to him, because he had fashioned a handcuff key."

Which makes how Keyes came to be in possession of the razor all the more perplexing.

"It was learned a razor had been mistakenly issued to Keyes and it appears that razor was not retrieved," the statement said. Schroeder said that she was unable to elaborate further on how Keyes was issued the razor, citing security concerns.

"It was a mistake, and that's all I can say," she said.

The DOC said that it would not reveal any personnel action taken -- if any was -- as a result of the incident, citing state and federal confidentiality laws.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com