News Releases

Homicide Investigation

Crescent City – Officials at Pelican Bay State Prison are investigating the death of an inmate as a homicide.

On Saturday, February 20, 2010 at approximately 8:55 p.m., correctional officers discovered inmate Daniel Sierra, unresponsive inside his cell on the Facility B, maximum-security general population yard at Pelican Bay State Prison. Staff immediately began life saving measures in an attempt to revive Sierra. Those attempts were not successful and Sierra was pronounced dead at 9:26 p.m.

Sierra, 55, was received by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on November 7, 1995, from San Diego County. Sierra was sentenced under California’s Three Strikes Law and was serving a term of 26 years to life for receiving stolen property. Sierra had multiple prior convictions including burglary, battery and receiving stolen property.

Inmate Samuel Atwell, who was housed in the same cell with Sierra, is the suspect in the investigation. Atwell, 39, was received by the CDCR on April 19, 1991, from Sacramento County. Atwell was serving a term of 40 years to life, following a conviction for first-degree murder and second-degree robbery.

“This incident is under investigation by our Investigative Services Unit. Because this is an active investigation and an autopsy has not yet been completed, we will not be releasing specific information concerning inmate Sierra’s death.” Pelican Bay State Prison Public Information Officer Lt. Ken Thomas said. “I am able to confirm that sufficient evidence exists, which links inmate Atwell to the death of Sierra.”

Pelican Bay State Prison, a maximum-security prison, is located 13 miles from the Oregon – California border. The prison opened in 1989, houses more than 3,400 minimum- and maximum-custody inmates and employs more than 1,600 people.