Crime & Courts

Anchorage Jail murder suspect received near-fatal beating in 2013

A man held at the Anchorage jail and accused of fatally assaulting a fellow inmate Friday is the same man who was brutally beaten as a teenager and found in an abandoned house more than two years ago, authorities confirmed Sunday.

Anchorage police spokeswoman Renee Oistad confirmed that 20-year-old James Clinton -- now charged with first-degree murder in the death of 53-year-old inmate Mark Canul -- was the man critically injured in September 2013, in a beating that rendered him comatose for weeks after being left in an abandoned home.

According to the Alaska Department of Corrections, Canul was found unconscious in a cell he shared with Clinton Friday afternoon, with staff performing CPR on Canul by 1:30 p.m. Both men had been arrested on charges of refusing to leave bus property, with Canul picked up Nov. 22 and Clinton arrested Dec. 7.

The inmates, considered minimum-security prisoners, had been held in a cell that wasn't covered by surveillance video when Clinton assaulted Canul, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Troopers spokesperson Tim Despain said officials with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation couldn't release anything further on the investigation into Canul's death Sunday, citing the ongoing coordination with DOC staff.

On Sept. 16, 2013, police officers at the University of Alaska Anchorage received an anonymous note directing them to a home scheduled for demolition at 807 Barrow St., where Clinton had been beaten and left to die.

Four suspects -- Tye Manning, Michael Liufau, Iosia Fiso and Trevvor Trobough -- were arrested in Clinton's beating, which charging documents said occurred after he flirted with Liufau's girlfriend. The four received sentences ranging from nearly a year of time served to four years in prison in connection with the assault.

The new death investigation comes as the DOC falls under heightened scrutiny from Gov. Bill Walker, in part due to prisoner deaths in Alaska institutions. Less than a month ago, Walker named former Anchorage police chief Walt Monegan his interim corrections commissioner. He accepted the resignation of Monegan's predecessor Ron Taylor in the wake of a report blasting department policies following a wave of in-custody fatalities in the last two years.

The department's deputy commissioner, L. Diane Casto, said Sunday afternoon she couldn't comment on the nature of the assault pending further details from investigators.

"We are still waiting for both the medical examiner's report to give more clues on the cause of death, and the troopers to give their report," Casto said.

Casto also couldn't confirm Sunday whether corrections officials at the jail had been aware of Clinton's history.

"Neither of the gentlemen had any charges against them for violent offenses," Casto said. "That was one of the reasons they were put together in a cell."

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.