In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, one of the two inmates accused of killing four fellow inmates at the Kirkland Correctional Institution just outside of Columbia, South Carolina, earlier this year, spoke out and gave some insight to the motive behind the slayings.
Denver Simmons, 35, is serving a life sentence for the double murder of woman and her son. Simmons said after a failed attempt at suicide, he saw the slaying of his fellow inmates as a means to get on death row. Jacob Philip, 26, who is also serving a life sentence for the double murder of his girlfriend and her daughter, agreed to help.
After months of “joking” about it, Simmons and Philip devised a plan in March, then carried it out on April 7. One by one, they led each of the four inmates into a cell and strangled them, hiding the bodies within the confines of a prison cell after each murder, as not to spook the next in line.
Once the killings were completed, Simmons and Philip walked to the guard station and told the guards what they did.
The murdered inmates were identified as Jimmy Ham, 56; Jason Kelley, 35; John King, 52; and William Scruggs, 44. Ham had served nearly a decade behind bars for aggravated assault and battery, grand larceny and burglary and was due to be released in November. Kelley was serving time for stabbing his teenage stepson. King was serving time for burglary, theft and larceny. Scruggs was behind bars for the murder of a disabled veteran.
Speaking matter-of-factly, Simmons, who said prison is “just not a good place to live… day in and day out,” shared the grisly details of the behind-bars murders, including the order in which they killed their victims and why.
“Honestly, we could have got staff members,” Simmons added. “But they’re just there doing their job, you know? The people we killed, whether they deserved it or not, were not fine, upstanding members of society. You know, none of us are, or we wouldn’t be in where we’re at.”
But Simmons said the murder of his fellow inmates was all “for nothing” because – due to the fact that he and Philip have been deemed mentally ill – neither are likely to get their death row wish.
Ironically, Simmons previously pleaded guilty to the double murder in order to avoid the death penalty.