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Sun, Sept. 15

Family of slain Kingman inmate search for answers
Doctors told injuries were from 'slip and fall,' father says

Neil Early

Neil Early

KINGMAN - Five weeks have passed since Neil Early was fatally beaten at the Arizona State Prison-Kingman.

Keith and Tammy Early have heard absolutely nothing from MTC, the Utah-based company that owns and operates the private, for-profit prison in Golden Valley, or the Arizona Department of Corrections, which is investigating their son's death.

The failure to communicate is keeping them from processing the 23-year-old's death. The pain remains as indescribably horrific today as it did in January when doctors in Las Vegas told the Earlys their son was clinically dead.

"To this day, they haven't told us anything," said Keith Early in an interview on Monday.

"We're still in a daze because we don't know what is going on."

The call, like most calls carrying tragic news, came at 3 a.m.

"They said he was taken to the hospital, but they couldn't tell us anything else," said Neil. "My wife took the call. I started calling (after work) at 8 a.m. They still couldn't tell us anything, so I asked, 'Is he still breathing?'

"They said he was."

The next call came from the prison chaplain at about 1:50 p.m. He said it didn't look good. I asked if we could visit and he said he would have to check with the warden."

The chaplain called back within 10 minutes. They had the warden's permission - and an ominous warning. "He said Neil might not be there when we got to Vegas," said Early.

The Earlys left their home in Black Canyon City in southern Yavapai County about 22 miles north of Phoenix and drove the roughly four-and-a-half hours to Vegas.

They couldn't immediately see their son because the prison apparently didn't let staffers guarding Early know that his parents were coming.

"We had to go through security, pat-downs, the whole nine yards. Neil was out. He already had brain surgery and they told us, at this point, we had to wait 36 hours to perform a brain test."

That test did not end well. There was no blood flowing to Early's brain and doctors declared him clinically deceased.

"At that point we granted his wishes and donated his organs," said Keith Early, his voice cracking.

The lack of information has kept the Earlys locked in the first stage of grief - denial and isolation - despite the fact they held a memorial service on Feb. 7.

"Every day something reminds us of him. Waiting for his phone call every Sunday ... I keep thinking this is all a bad dream."

The Clark County (Nevada) Coroner performed Neil Early's autopsy, but Keith Early said it could take several more weeks before a cause of death is determined pending testing of his brain tissue.

While the Arizona Department of Corrections has announced the man's death was likely a homicide, the investigation continues.

When he was brought to Kingman Regional Medical Center, said Keith Early, doctors were told he slipped and fell.

The Miner has been told that Early was beaten over a drug debt that he owed to other prisoners and he purchased brownies instead of making a payment.

Keith Early is well aware of his son's history. Imprisoned for five years in 2011 for stealing and then trying to sell about $600 worth of video games, Neil Early developed a drug problem while a high school student in Black Canyon City, a tiny city that straddles Interstate 17 in just about the geographic center of the state.

Early was one of many adolescents in the town to develop a problem with the prescription painkiller oxycontin.

"When the supply ran out, it led to heroin," said Keith Early. "This whole small town had a problem."

The drug abuse is what led to the theft of the video games, which is what led to prison.

And prison is what led Early to drug dealers who were more than happy to take on another customer.

"From what I understand, the beating had to be approved by whoever is in charge," said Early. "They get the kids in debt, bleed the family and then comes the beating."

Early said no inmates from the prison tried to extort money from the family, but Neil would often ask for money to be put on his books.

"We tried not to give him extra so he couldn't get in trouble," said Keith. "We sent care packages where we could pick out what he would get. He would call us for money but we tried to ration what we gave because we knew he had a problem."

While the department of corrections has been silent while the investigation continues, they have said they intend to ask Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith to prosecute "to the fullest extent of the law" the inmate or inmates who might ultimately be found guilty of Early's death.

Neil Early leaves behind his parents, brother Tyler, 14, and his toddler son, Matix.

"My son did something wrong," said Keith Early. "I know that, he knew that, but he didn't deserve this. He was outgoing. He got along with everybody. He always had a big smile on his face. He was always in a good mood, he was smart and he got a drug habit in Black Canyon City."

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