A former Wake County teacher serving four life sentences for murder, arson and child rape was found dead in his prison cell following an apparent suicide early Wednesday morning, according to a state corrections spokesman.
Detention officers found Bernard Sanford, 72, unresponsive in his cell at Maury Correctional Institute in Greene County, said Keith Acree, a spokesman with the state Department of Public Safety. Efforts by the prison’s medical staff to revive Sanford were unsuccessful, and a prison doctor pronounced him dead shortly after 4 a.m., Acree reported.
Sanford was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in 2006 after being convicted of murder, arson, rape, assault with a deadly weapon and numerous counts of sex offenses. Wake County prosecutors accused Sanford of fatally shooting Nathaniel “Zane” Winters, 45, and seriously wounding Winters’ sister-in-law, Karen Winters, before torching her North Raleigh mobile home and catching on fire himself.
The Winters family had tried to evict Sanford from the mobile home, where he had moved six months earlier to help care for Karen Winters after her husband was beaten to death about a year before.
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While cleaning up the fire-damaged home, members of the Winters family found more than 400 photographs depicting the sexual abuse of children that had been hidden in a room Winters used as a bedroom. Some of the Polaroid pictures went back decades and showed Sanford, a former teacher at Millbrook Junior High School in the 1970s, engaging in sex acts with underage boys and girls, police reported.
Police said the earliest confirmed instance of abuse and molestation was in 1977, when Sanford victimized a 4-year-old boy he babysat.
Investigators pored over the photos and were able to identify 19 victims. Four of the victims pressed charges against Sanford.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Department is investigating Sanford’s death, Acree reported.