SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- A former San Quentin Prison guard testified in the murder-conspiracy trial of Stephen Bingham Tuesday that convicts slashed his throat and then tried to strangle him with sheets in a bloody 1971 escape attempt.
Charles Breckenridge, 38, told the Marin County Superior Court jury that he survived by feigning death 'by going limp and closing my eyes' in the adjustment center cell where he had been placed with fellow guard Urbano Rubiaco.
Bingham, a prison reform lawyer at the time, was accused of smuggling a pistol to black convict activist George Jackson during a visit on Aug. 21, 1971, to spark the breakout try. Jackson, three guards and two inmates died in San Quentin's bloodiest day.
Bingham was charged with murder in the shooting deaths of guards Jere Graham and Frank DeLeon. Guard Paul Krasenes and the two white inmates died from slashed throats. Jackson was shot to death.
Breckenridge, now a psychologist in Minnesota, testified that he saw inmates slash Rubiaco's throat and inmate Hugo Pinell. Breckenridge said he was cut on both sides of his neck.
He said he then heard inmates yelling in the corridor: 'Those pigs aren't dead yet.' They then re-entered the cell and tried to strangle him with sheets, Breckenridge told the jury.
He said he and Rubiaco survived by pretending they were dead.
Breckenridge said that he then heard single shots and automatic weapons fire. 'They've got George (Jackson),' he said he heard convicts shout. Then, he added, they yelled: 'We've got hostages.' Guards replied: 'It makes no difference.'
Breckenridge said he managed to untie himself and used a razor imbedded in a toothbrush -- which had been used by the convicts -- to cut Rubiaco's bindings. He added they then ran into the center's recreation yard.
'I fell down. That's about all I had. I ran out of strength,' he said.
He and Rubiaco were taken to Marin General Hospital, where they recovered from their wounds.
Carl Adams, 68, a retired guard, testified after Breckenridge that he had been serving as the yard officer and walked with Graham to the adjustment center when they became concerned about the whereabouts of Breckenridge and DeLeon.
Adams, who retired in 1972 after suffering a heart attack, said that, when Graham entered the unit and he locked the door, he saw Jackson through a window and the convict held a pistol. He said Jackson pointed it at him and ordered him to open the door or 'I'll blow your head off.'
Adams said he ran to an office and sounded the alarm. Then, he said, he saw Jackson and convict Johnny Spain run into the yard in front of the center and saw Jackon shot. 'His legs buckled under him, he somersaulted, then there was no movement,' the former guard told the court.
He said Spain hid in bushes but surrendered when guards entered the yard.
Bingham disappeared after his visit but surrendered two years ago. He explained that he had feared he would be unable to get a fair trial.