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‘Gut-wrenching’: Man formerly incarcerated in Anamosa remembers staffers killed in attack

Published: Mar. 28, 2021 at 11:54 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - An Iowa City man who was formerly incarcerated at Anamosa State Penitentiary remembered two correctional staffers killed in an attack at the prison last Tuesday as good people who genuinely cared about him as a person.

Eddie Walker served nearly 18 years behind bars for a first-degree robbery charge before being released on parole in 2019. About three of those years, from 2002 to 2003 and from 2017 to 2018, were spent in Anamosa, where he got to know nurse Lorena Schulte and correctional officer Robert McFarland, whom Walker knew as “Mac.”

“Mac was a good dude, somebody that, when I walked into medical, the first thing he would say, ‘Hey, Walker, what’s going on?’” Walker said. “Lorena was always one to, you know, ‘Hey, Eddie, how are you doing? You all right? Is everything going OK?’”

Schulte and McFarland both worked in the prison’s infirmary, where Walker would visit a few times each day because of his diabetes.

He described 50-year-old Schulte as “good-hearted,” saying she would always recognize when he wasn’t having a good day. Schulte had worked as a nurse in Anamosa since 2007 and lived in Cedar Rapids.

McFarland was a “good dude,” according to Walker, who said the 46-year-old Ely resident would frequently talk about his work with the city’s volunteer fire department when Walker asked about his weekend, if the two weren’t talking about the Hawkeyes. McFarland served as a correctional officer at the prison since 2008.

According to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, two Anamosa inmates — 39-year-old Thomas Woodard and 28-year-old Michael Dutcher — were attempting to escape the prison through the infirmary breakroom shortly after 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Special Agent in Charge Richard Rahn said they broke the glass on a window in the room and then used a mechanical grinder to try to break the bars blocking the window but were not successful in their attempts.

Schulte and McFarland, who were present in the breakroom of the prison’s infirmary, attempted to stop their escape. Rahn said Schulte and McFarland both received blunt-force trauma to the back of their heads.

Woodard and Dutcher were in possession of hammers and a grinder, which were obtained as part of a work program inside the prison.

Walker said finding out the two people killed Tuesday were workers he knew and had good relationships with, and learning about the violent nature of their deaths, was “really shocking.”

“When I saw that, it just — you know, they deserved to be able to go home,” Walker said. “Just to see something like that is gut-wrenching.”

Danny Homan, the president of AFSCME Council 61, the union that represents most of the Iowa Department of Corrections staff, said the department needs to hire more people to offset overcrowding in prisons and prevent another tragedy.

“I have said more than once that something like this might happen if we don’t fix the staffing levels of our prisons, and unfortunately, that came true,” Homan said.

But Walker maintained that hiring more guards will not fix the problem.

He said, in his experience, more could be done by diverting people in the prison system with mental health needs to mental health facilities and by decriminalizing marijuana, to remove nonviolent offenders convicted of low-level drug crimes from the system as well.

“The prison being overcrowded is something the governor can fix with the swipe of a pen,” Walker said.

Woodard and Dutcher, the two inmates suspected of attacking Schulte and McFarland, were serving 25- and 50-year sentences, respectively.

While Walker said escape attempts weren’t uncommon during his nearly two decades in Iowa prisons, he said breakouts being attempted by inmates with set release dates was.

“I think it’s more rare for guys that don’t have life sentences,” he said. “These guys could’ve gotten out of prison just by doing their time.”

Dutcher and Woodard have each been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of second-degree kidnapping.

Rahn said another inmate, McKinley Roby, was attempting to render aid to the prison employees when he was also struck in the back of the head. He was later taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Rahn said a third prison employee also attempted to help the victims during the attack but was held against her will and told “she would be next” if she did not cooperate with Dutcher and Woodard.

If convicted, the first-degree murder charges carry mandatory life sentences in Iowa.

“You go from being able to get your freedom to never seeing the light of day,” Walker said.

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