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Donnie Butler, 51 [Updated]

Donnie Butler, a 51-year-old black man, died Thursday, Aug. 19, at the state prison in the 44000 block of 60th Street West in Lancaster, according to Los Angeles County coroner's records.

At the time of his death, Butler was living in a two-man cell, Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide Sgt. Robert Gray said. While conducting a security check at 10:13 p.m., a prison guard found him dead.

According to preliminary coroner's records, Butler had a noose around his neck and may have died from strangulation. An official cause of death has since been deferred and results will not be available for six to eight weeks, authorities said.

Gray said investigators are still trying to determine if the case is a homicide or suicide. Butler was residing in an area of the prison for those who have mental health problems, Gray said. However, Butler did not have any problems at the prison before his death.

[Note: This homicide did not appear on a coroner's report several weeks ago. It was added Sept. 7, 2010, after the coroner's office alerted The Times about the addition.]

[Updated Feb. 28, 2011: Coroner's officials said Butler died from asphyxia and his death was ruled a homicide.]

[Updated March 1, 2011: Sgt. Gray said Butler's cellmate, Derik Brock, a 40-year-old black man, initially refused to speak with investigators about the victim's death.

Brock later wrote a letter to detectives asking them to return to the prison so that he could reveal information. On Sept. 23, in a meeting with investigators, he confessed to killing Butler.

Gray said Butler and Brock were both serving life terms. Butler was convicted of murder and Brock was convicted of attempted murder.

Brock told investigators that he was depressed and "tripping." He had stopped taking his medication and came to the realization that he was never going to get out of prison.

There was no falling out between the cellmates, but Brock had decided he was going to kill Butler, Gray said. Brock tricked Butler into letting Brock tie him up, and then Brock took a torn bed sheet and strangled him.

Brock is being held at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and is scheduled to be arraigned in the slaying March 15 at the Antelope Valley courthouse.]

Anyone with additional information about Butler's death is asked to contact Sgt. Gray at (323) 890-5569.

-- Sarah Ardalani

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