Saturday, April 21, 2012

Freaky (Factual) Tale Friday: The terrifying death of Kenneth Michael Trentadue

(photo @ realfoodfreaks)

Kenneth Michael Trentadue (or Kenney, as his friends and family called him) spent his early years in West Virginia as part of a family of coal miners.  When the coal market plummeted in 1961, his family packed all of their belongings and moved to Orange County, California.

Kenney and his brother, Jesse, went on to become accomplished track stars at their high school.  But while Jesse turned his athletic ability into a college scholarship (and later a successful law practice), Kenney dropped out of school, developed a heroin habit, and eventually began a completely different career path:  robbing banks.

He was arrested, served his time, and paroled in 1988.  Unlike many convicts released from jail, however, Kenney actually seemed to clean up his act: He got married, started a family, and found steady employment as a construction worker.


Peter Gibbons of 'Office Space' would approve of this career choice.


But on June 10, 1995, Kenney was pulled over for a DUI near San Diego. After police ran his license, they discovered that he had committed multiple parole violations (not submitting to monthly reports being chief among them).  Despite the fact that he seemed to have come a long way from his bank robbing and heroin days, Trentadue recognized that he had messed up and pleaded guilty.

Kenney was jailed in San Diego for about two months, but on August August 19, he was inexplicably transferred to the Department of Justice's Federal Transfer Center...in Oklahoma City.  He talked with his brother Jesse's wife that evening (who was also an attorney) and did not seemed terribly concerned, about the change in location, figuring it was just procedural (for those clicking on the link, "Brockway" is a reference to an alias, "Paul Brockway" Trentadue once used).

The next evening, Kenney called Jesse again so that they could discuss plans and strategy for his upcoming parole hearing.  Jesse described his brother as sounding "chipper" and said that he promised him that he would call the next day. The family did get a call from the prison the next morning, but not from Kenney. Instead, it was the prison warden informing them that Trentadue had committed suicide by hanging himself in his jail cell with a bed sheet. 

The bizarre series of events surrounding this terrible tragedy began immediately when the prison offered to have Kenney's body cremated at the government's expense. The family turned the offer down and asked that his remains be sent to them so that they could have a viewing and funeral.

When Kenney's body arrived in California 5 days later, the family was shocked by what they saw:  Multiple bruises, slashes across his throat, ruptures on his scalp, and much more, all indicators a violent and painful struggle/beating.

At this point I would normally post pictures, but they are far too graphic and saddening to put up. Instead, here is a link where you can see much of the physical damage done to Kenneth Trentadue, but be forewarned that it caused some mourners at his viewing to go out to the parking lot and vomit

                                                                                                                                    cute-puppies-and-dogs-photos
Once you're done examining the photographs, 
stare at this picture until your soul is able to recover.


Jesse Trentadue wrote and hand delivered an angry yet well articulated letter (along with photographs of his brother's remains) to the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice.  The message of said letter was basically "Your claims that my brother committed suicide are complete and total bull$#@&."

Two days later, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued a press release stating that the death was, in fact, a suicide and that Trentadue's injuries were a result of "persistent attempts" to hang himself.  

These "persistent attempts" included the possibility that after Trentadue's bed sheet rope did not hold around his neck when he jumped from the sink (which also somehow causing bruises all over his body), Trentadue decided to try and slash his own throat with a plastic knife...or a toothpaste tube.

                                            teethwhiteningdetail.com
That's just too dumb/maddening/sad for me to make a snarky comment about it.


The BOP claimed that after this failed plan of 'death by Colgate', Trentadue attempted to hang himself again and was successful.  Fortunately, someone pretty high up in the investigative chain saw how ridiculously stupid the BOP's assessment was: Chief examiner of the Oklahoma state medical examiner, Kevin Rowland.

Rowland lodged a complaint with the FBI, stating in part the Trentadue's cell  had clearly been washed out and sanitized before an investigation by the coroner could be performed.  He went on to state that Trentadue appeared to have been tortured and that foul play was most definitely suspected.  Oklahoma's chief medical examiner, Fred Jordan, also refused to classify the case as a suicide, listing it as "unknown" pending an investigation.

The BOP got right on the case and launched a full investigation...with one small catch. The attorney in charge of it was told to treat all of his finding as "attorney work product." This meant that any information uncovered in the course of said investigation could not be used in a lawsuit against the government and was exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.

                                                                    wallchan.com
Case closed.  Counsel would like to request that the the committee reviewing this matter "move along" immediately.


Things get weirder

The case was also investigated by the FBI, and later by the Department of Justice due to mounting complaints from the state medical examiner.  This was later followed by a wrongful death suit filed by Trentadue's family.  There is still a lot about the case that we don't know (and probably never will), but quite a few things that were uncovered make it clear that something wasn't right:

-When a guard alleged to have found Trentadue dead in his cell, he did not offer any medical assistance.  A prison medic claimed to have performed CPR on Trentadue, but later admitted he had not.

-Trentadue's clothes from the night he allegedly hung himself vanished.

-The FBI testified that there had been another person's blood found in Trentadue's cell and that there were no cut marks from the noose that prison officials had allegedly cut him down from.

-Although prison officials claimed that Trentadue had scrawled his suicide note on the prison wall, it was painted over before the cell could be examined.  The FBI deemed it "doubtful" that the writing could definitively be matched to Trentadue.

-A prison guard strongly hinted to his neighbor that Trentadue had been killed and subsequently hung in his cell as a cover up.

-Alden Gillis Baker, an inmate that was housed near Trentadue, told Jesse Trentadue that he had heard sounds of a violent physical struggle in Kenney's cell the night that he died. He made the same claims in a deposition connected the wrongful death suit.  The judge deemed Baker an unreliable witness and threw out his testimony.  He told his lawyer that he feared for his life...

...and was later found dead in his jail cell, hanging by a bed sheet. His death was also ruled a suicide


No, seriously...move along, or you may "commit suicide," too.


Even more damning than all of this was the fact that Oklahoma's chief medical examiner, Fred Jordan, was still adamantly refusing to rule Trentadue's death a suicide.  He insisted that Kenney had been "abused and tortured" and was most likely killed.  He was even bold enough to say that the federal Grand Jury assigned to the case was part of the cover up.

The Department of Justice was not very found of Mr. Jordan's opinion, so they sought a second one in the form of Bill Gormley from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. Unfortunately for the DOJ, he also came to the conclusion that Trentadue had been murdered.

Jordan even went so far as to tell a local news station of how strong his belief was that Trentadue had most likely been murdered.  Embedded below is a (terribly transferred from VHS) video of the interview:



Jordan also claimed that he was under intense pressure from the Department of Justice to rule Trentadue's death a suicide. In fact, the pressure from the DOJ became so intense that he eventually asked for a protective audit from the IRS to shield himself from further harassment.

To drive the point home further, Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General Patrick Crowley wrote a letter to the Justice Department affirming that the DOJ had continually harassed Jordan and his staff and accused the DOJ of destroying evidence.  He ended by saying that if this was how things were done on a regular basis, "all Americans should be very frightened...of the DOJ."

A few months later, Jordan suddenly changed his ruling on Trentadue's death from "unknown" to "suicide."  Although he still contended that Kenney had been beaten, he cited forensic analysis of the suicide note on the prison wall as his primary reason for changing his cause of death ruling...

...the same writing on the prison wall that was painted over hours after Trentadue's death...and deemed by the FBI itself as highly unlikely to ever be conclusively matched as Trentadue's.

                                                                                  cracked.com



But why did they kill Trentadue? And why would the federal government move a parole violator from California to Oklahoma City?


The possible answer to these questions is what helps all this craziness and possible cover up start to make some sense (until it doesn't).

Two months before Trentadue was arrested, America was shocked and devastated by the Oklahoma City bombing.  In what was the most destructive terrorist attack on American soil before 9/11, a bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City took the lives of 168 people. 19 of the victims were children under the age of 6 that were in the building's day care center. The blast also injured over 800 people and caused approximately $652 million in property damage.

The man who primarily organized and carried out the attacke, Timothy McVeigh, was the type of turd brained idiot that was able to justify children dying in his misguided quest for revenge on the government as "collateral damage."  He was also a giant walking contradiction (as most extremists are), believing was crusading against tyranny and oppression, but also associating with hate groups such as the Aryan Republican Army.

Within that group was one Richard Lee Guthrie. Guthrie was a member of the A.R.A. and pegged as a possible match for John Doe #2, an oft cited and as of yet unidentified (and still at large) conspirator that helped McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing.

When McVeigh was shown a picture of Kenney Trentadue, he was shocked at how much he looked like Guthrie, right down to having almost the exact same dragon tattoo on his left forearm.  Unfortunately, we will never know if Guthrie was involved with McVeigh or not; a month before he was to give an interview about the Oklahoma City bombing, Guthrie was found in his cell jail, dead from (you guessed it) hanging himself in an apparent suicide.


                                                                                                                           starwars.wikia.com
We've covered the "move along" part of all this, correct?


While it's hard to feel any sympathy for a white supremacist who may have been involved in the killing of innocent people, Trentadue is an entirely different matter. 

Was Kenney beaten to death in an interrogation due to mistaken identity?  Though we will most likely never know the answer, Jesse Trentadue was able to win a $1.1 million judgement in his wrongful death suit against the federal government.

While the ruling did not state the Kenney had been murdered, it did affirm that the investigation into his death was handled very poorly and with extreme dishonesty at nearly every turn.  The federal government repeatedly appealed and even outright refused to pay the sum, but eventually relented and payed a civil settlement.

Unfortunately, all the money in the world can't return Jesse's brother to him.  He has continued his quest to find out how and why Kenney really died, but has been blocked by the FBI and the Department of Justice at every turn

While many of us will simply find this story confusing, intriguing, or maddening, the Trentadue family has yet to gain closure on who or why one of their own was brutally beaten and most likely killed.  A wife lost her husband, a son lost his father, and a brother lost his best friend.


                                                                                                  deseretnews.com
Jesse Trentadue, left, and Michael Trentadue in happier times.