A former federal correctional officer at the Taft Prison Camp is on trial in federal court in Fresno on misdemeanor criminal charges that she engaged in a sexual act with an inmate.
The guard, Tammy L. Isbell, 42, is accused of performing oral sex on inmate Baltazar Magana in a darkened conference room at the prison camp.
Most of the testimony Wednesday came from Rickey Benson, a former sergeant of Isbell's, who said he discovered her with Magana in the conference room, an area off-limits to inmates.
Isbell's defense lawyer, Richard Berman, told the 11 women and one man on the jury during opening statements Tuesday that the evidence will show that Magana is "a drug dealer and a federal convict" and he is "also a liar."
Magana is expected to testify that he and Isbell had met on prior occasions and engaged in kissing and touching before the night of the alleged oral copulation.
In opening arguments for the government, Kim Raven, a law clerk and prosecutor-in-training with the U.S. Attorney's Office, said that Benson saw a blond head about table-height through a door window the night of Aug. 12, 1999.
Benson, now a security guard in San Diego, said he confronted Isbell when she came out the door and she appeared nervous and tried to block his entry into the room.
When he did enter, he found Magana sitting in a chair.
Berman earlier had told the jury that Benson has never said he actually saw a sex act and the only evidence of that will come from Magana, who did not admit it until after he had been put in the nearby Taft Correctional Institution's security-housing unit, a lockdown area. The SHU is a stark contrast to the prison camp, where inmates enjoy relative freedom of movement.
"What has he got to lose by saying that?" Berman asked. "He's got everything to gain."
Berman said Isbell, who resigned after the incident, has been married for 21 years and she and her husband, Paul, have two sons. He said her husband will testify in support of her.
Prison guards who fraternize with inmates are subject to dismissal. Guards who engage in sexual contact are subject to criminal charges.
Both the Taft institution and the camp are privately operated by the Wackenhut Corrections Corp. under government contract.
The trial before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill is expected to last nine days.
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