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Killed in Prison, Joe O'Kane Still on the Wrong Side of the Law

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Joseph O'Kane, a tough-guy gangster who took the witness stand on behalf of John (Junior) Gotti, spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law. Five months after he was murdered in his federal prison cell, his family believes that's why they're still having trouble getting the law on their side.

To date, no one has been charged with his death. Nor has anyone been accused of stealing his gold cross and watch, even though prison sources say an inmate admitted killing O'Kane soon after he was found fatally stabbed, and authorities have evidence that a second jailbird stole the jewelry as he lay bleeding to death.

O'Kane's sister, Marie Lanza tells Gang Land that officials at the federal Bureau of Prisons and the FBI have been giving them the runaround about their respective investigations into the savage slaying of her brother on April 25.

"We were always on the wrong side of the law," says Lanza. "Now my brother is murdered and we're still on the wrong side of the law, like it's our fault - or his fault - that Joey is dead. He was no altar boy, but he was doing his time in peace. The BOP says the FBI is investigating; the FBI says the BOP is conducting an internal investigation."

Reliable prison sources on both sides of the law tell Gang Land that within hours of O'Kane's murder, prison officials had determined that Allen Hurley, a 44-year-old bank robber serving 37 years for six armed bank jobs in Pennsylvania and Maryland in 2001, had killed O'Kane and had placed him into a Segregated Housing Unit. (SHU)

A correction officer found O'Kane, 43, "lying on a cell floor in a pool of blood" in his cell block during his rounds at USP Canaan, a troubled federal penitentiary in Waymart, Pennsylvania at 9:45 PM, according to a report about the homicide on the authoritative website of the union that represents 300,000 guards and other workers at the BOP's 113 facilities. A second inmate was murdered at USP Canaan last month, in what a spokeswoman called an "isolated" incident. So far this year, there have been 13 inmate homicides at BOP prisons, and six at halfway houses, according to a BOP spokesman.

"A friend of my brother's (at Canaan) said a couple of guys saw the guy as he came out of the cell full of blood," says Lanza. "He told everyone what he did, and his cellmate ran over and took my brother's cross and his watch."

Sources say that O'Kane, who was serving a life sentence for a racketeering/murder conviction in a 1999 indictment, and Hurley were "friendly" antagonists who played chess and often walked the prison yards together after O'Kane was transferred to USP Canaan about 18 months earlier.

No one has offered any motive for the vicious attack - he was stabbed more than 10 times - but sources agree that it is unlikely that it had anything to do with O'Kane's decision to testify last year as a defense witness for Junior Gotti.

Sources say Thomas Morrison, 50, a California-based bank robber who was sentenced to life in 1997 following his third conviction for an armed bank stickup, was the inmate who stole O'Kane's jewelry. The BOP also placed Morrison into the SHU, where both inmates still remain, sources say.

Spokespersons for the BOP, the FBI in Philadelphia, as well as the U.S. Attorney's office in Scranton, which prosecutes crimes committed at the facility, declined to comment about the case. Pressed about O'Kane's missing jewelry, the BOP's Kim Straesser declined to confirm or deny that he had any, saying only that the prison "returned all of his belongings" to his family.

"Two days after he dies, they send us 40 pounds of food they say they got from his locker, with a packing slip, but no cross and no watch, and he never took the cross off," says Lanza, 49, adding that her younger brother called or emailed her every day, especially on weekends, and that she constantly thinks about the Sunday night in April that he never called.

"He was my best friend in this world," she says, her voice cracking. "There was nobody closer to me than him. I just need to know what happened. How long was he laying there? Could he have been saved?"

Lanza says she's not looking for a pound of flesh, but tells Gang Land she would like to see her brother's killer "live a long life and spend every day of it in prison - suffering."

More important than that, is "closure," a word she says she didn't understand until her brother was killed. "We need to find out what really happened," she says.