A 39-year-old inmate at the Oak Park Heights maximum-security prison charged with strangling a fellow inmate to death made his first court appearance June 12, according Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Benjamin Heath Beck faces second-degree murder charges for allegedly killing Shane Lawrence Cooper, 30, on Dec. 2. If convicted, Beck faces a penalty of up to 40 years in prison, in addition to the 57 month sentence he is currently serving.
According to authorities, Cooper was found dead on the floor of his cell around 4:50 p.m. Dec. 2 with a ligature around his neck. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner identified the cause of death as homicide by strangulation.
A surveillance camera recorded another inmate, Beck, entering Cooper’s cell shortly before Cooper was found dead, according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Agents from the bureau had found a shoelace and Beck’s identification badge in the cell assigned to Cooper. Agents interviewed Beck and searched his cell, finding one shoe without a shoelace.
During the interview, Beck stated that “he did have an effect on the outcome” of the victim, according the criminal complaint. Beck was identified as the only suspect.
Beck was convicted of first-degree aggravated robbery and first-degree burglary while possessing a dangerous weapon in 2006.
Cooper was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a child under the age of 13 in 2012.
According to the criminal complaint, Beck stated that when Cooper initially arrived at the Oak Park Heights facility they developed a relationship in which Beck was Cooper’s “protector.”
Beck told agents he originally did not know what Cooper had been incarcerated for. When he discovered the nature of Cooper’s conviction, he told agents that he could not longer be the protector to someone who had committed that type of crime, and that Cooper had not given him a way out.
According to the complaint, Beck stated that he was in his right mind when he committed the act, and that it was a choice he had made without other inmates having prior knowledge of his actions.
Beck’s next scheduled appearance is an omnibus hearing before Judge John McBride in Washington County Court on Aug. 14, with a jury trial scheduled to start Nov. 10. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Washington County Attorney Thomas D. Wedes.
Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]