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Inmate who killed self said to target witness

Defense lawyer denies allegation

The lead prosecutor in the murder case against Eric Snow, an inmate who died Saturday in an apparent suicide after spending years in segregated confinement, said Snow had twice tried to have a key witness killed from his jail cell. While the disclosure appears to shed light on Snow’s prolonged isolation, his lawyer denied the allegations.

Snow, who was accused of bludgeoning two homeless men to death in Hingham in 2005, allegedly enlisted his codefendant in the slayings to burn down the witness’s home, according to John Bradley, a prosecutor with the Plymouth district attorney’s office. The 2006 plot became apparent when investigators reviewed letters between Snow and James Winquist, who were both charged with murder in 2007, Bradley said.

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Snow, who had a lengthy criminal history and ties to white supremacists, was already imprisoned on separate charges. Winquist was free.

“They were in constant contact,’’ Bradley said. “When you read the letters, it was crystal clear what Snow was talking about.’’

The witness, who is now in protective custody, said she had seen Snow bury one of the victim’s severed hands near his home, Bradley said.

Snow’s lawyer, Gerald FitzGerald, vigorously denied that Snow ever tried to intimidate a witness and expressed doubt that those accusations affected his treatment in Plymouth County Correctional Facility.

“The prosecution doesn’t run the jail. That’s just nonsense,’’ he said. “There’s no rational reason why he was segregated for that long.’’

‘When you read the letters, it was crystal clear what Snow [above] was talking about.’

John Bradley Prosecutor, discussing Snow’s letters to codefendant James Winquist
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Snow, whose case was set to go to trial in May, had pleaded with jail officials to free him from more than four years “in the hole’’ and expressed growing desperation over his isolation.

“I have been in the hole for so long it is eating me alive,’’ he wrote in a grievance Feb. 26.

Advocates decried the length of such isolation as cruel and unjustified, and FitzGerald, has denounced the jail for keeping Snow in prolonged separation, saying the experience broke him psychologically and led to his suicide.

Bradley said that he did not know why Snow was separated from other inmates but said jail officials knew about the alleged attempts to harm the witness.

“We don’t make those judgments,’’ he said, referring to inmate placements. “But they absolutely knew.’’

At the time of the alleged plot with Winquist, Snow was in the general prison population, Bradley said. Isolated inmates would have far less opportunity to contact others, both inside and outside the jail.

A spokesman for the Plymouth jail, John Birtwell, declined to comment on the specifics of Snow’s incarceration while the Plymouth district attorney’s office investigates his death. As a general matter, “there are many factors that determine the classification and placement of an individual in our facility,’’ he said.

In response to questions about the allegations, Birtwell said that Bradley’s comments provided “helpful context’’ to Snow’s incarceration.

Bradley said a second attempt at intimidation was allegedly made in 2008, when Snow tried to enlist an inmate who was about to be released to burn the same witness’s house down.

The inmate told his probation officer about the plot, and Snow was indicted on witness intimidation charges, Bradley said. The charges were set aside when the man died.

The district attorney’s office is awaiting toxicology tests before determining the cause of Snow’s death but said there is no indication of foul play. He was found in his bed with a plastic bag over his head.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com.

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