Family sues after murder suspect allegedly kills cellmate in Phoenix jail

Thomas James Desharnais, who was convicted of beating his step-grandson to death, is accused of killing his nonviolent cellmate in jail.
Published: Jul. 20, 2023 at 10:55 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) A man already facing the death penalty for allegedly murdering an 11-year-old boy is now indicted on new charges, accused of killing his cellmate behind bars. The family of that cellmate, a nonviolent offender, wants to know how he ended up there and why it took the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office nearly 10 months to bring these charges.

Investigators say Thomas Desharnais is responsible for the horrific abuse and murder of his step-grandson, Chaskah Davis. It was back in January 2022 that the 11-year-old’s body was pulled from a Scottsdale motel bathtub. Desharnais and his wife, the child’s grandmother, Stephanie Davis, claimed the boy hurt himself. Prosecutors didn’t buy it. Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said she’d seek the death penalty.

Desharnais ended up in Lower Buckeye Jail, where in September 2022, he was put in a cell with 51-year-old Richard Cano. “He’s a nonviolent criminal. A lot of his behavior was connected to his addiction,” said Anthony Ramirez, an attorney representing Cano’s family.

According to the incident report, staff at the jail found Cano unresponsive in his cell. He died soon after. Ramirez tells Arizona’s Family Investigates he was strangled to death. Cano’s family claims they weren’t notified of his death for two weeks. It was only by Googling his cellmate’s name that they learned who Desharnais was. “For the family not to get information has really been just difficult for them and very disappointing,” Ramirez said.

They filed a notice of claim in March, meaning they intend to sue. The County Attorney’s Office said it didn’t receive the case until April. Now, 10 months after the attack, Desharnais has been charged with Cano’s murder. He pleaded not guilty. Ramirez said he didn’t receive a response from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office on why Desharnais was put in the same cell as Cano.

Prosecutors tell Arizona’s Family Investigates they prioritize cases and that since he’s already in the system, typical time limits for filing don’t apply. Meanwhile, Ramirez says they plan to file a lawsuit soon.

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