A Reporter's Personal Encounter With An Alleged Mutilation Killer
By Karen Brandel
SEPTEMBER 8, 1997: IN A JANUARY 1995 story, The Weekly was first to identify former Tucson resident Lemuel Prion as the prime suspect in the mutilation/murder of 19-year-old Diana Vicari.
Her severed arms were found October 24, 1992, in a downtown dumpster. The rest of Vicari's body was never found.
After The Weekly identified him, Prion showed a great deal of interest in corresponding with the reporter who wrote the story. Eventually he was writing daily and trying to telephone weekly. His correspondence revealed a very different personality than what detectives had described.
In their interviews with him, Prion changed moods wildly, leading more than one investigator to speculate about a possible split personality or multiple personalities. But the more likely truth is that Prion is simply a master of manipulation.
For example, last year, his father stated Prion "acted crazy" because he wanted to be sent to Utah State Hospital rather than to prison. Indeed, a Utah judge eventually sentenced Prion to hospital treatment after he assaulted his father and was found to possess drug paraphernalia.
But the hospital was a bitter disappointment, Prion confided to a reporter, and he added he thought prison might be preferable, because at least he could work out with weights there.
Shortly after he made that statement, Prion's tantrums at the state hospital increased in frequency until hospital staff concluded they could no longer help him.
Authorities transferred him to the Vernal County (Utah) jail to await a judge's decision on whether to parole him to a halfway house, or force him to finish his sentence at Utah State Prison.
While he was in the county jail, family members told Prion about The Weekly's story about him. The reporter had never asked Prion point-blank about Diana Vicari, However, he ended a telephone conversation by sobbing that he felt sorry for Diana, and mentioned that she was very pretty. He quickly added that he'd seen her picture in the newspaper. He never mentioned the fact that Tucson detectives had shown him her photo.
On March 14 Prion was sent to Utah State Prison to finish his sentence; the judge also ordered that he remain on medications prescribed at the hospital. But before all the red tape of his transfer could be unraveled, Prion zeroed in on the prison physicians, complaining that he was on too much medicine. They conceded, eventually prescribing only the antidepressant Zoloft and an anti-inflammatory agent. The monotone quality of his voice soon lifted.
During this period, he wrote to the reporter about his self-destructive tendencies, blaming these mostly on his father. Amazingly, Prion even reasoned the brutal rapes he'd been convicted for in the past were actually self-destructive--because they got him into trouble. He never once mentioned the considerable pain and suffering he caused his victims.
Even as Prion confided to the reporter, he succeeded in getting others to confide in him. One prison staff member uneasily recalls realizing she'd not only revealed to Prion that she had a daughter, but even told him her general location. Feeling exploited by Prion is a common experience among those who've had any dealings with him.
He earned money working in the prison kitchen, and used it to enroll in courses at Utah State College. But, ultimately, prison life only seemed to foster Prion's self-absorption--especially his gymnastic workouts, which he approached with daunting intensity.
Never losing sight of why the reporter was interested in him, he wrote only about working on his arms and muscles; and he possessed much knowledge about these and related joints. He even joked in one letter that he might have to have his left arm amputated, and then commented that it was merely his warped sense of humor at work.
Prion never belied to the reporter any sense of shame or disgrace about The Weekly's description of his pathology. It was only when the reporter decided to end the correspondence that Prion hissed about betrayal--a crime, he claimed, that is worse than murder.
He tried to re-establish communication with the reporter in another phone call, promising to be the best friend one could have. "I'd kill for you," was his way of expressing the devotion of friendship.
When this didn't work, Prion quickly soured and made accusations, stopping just short of threat. He remained in control. The reporter was reminded of her first interview with him, in a cramped office at Utah State Hospital. She'd asked him how it came to be that he wound up where he was. He didn't hesitate at all when he answered that he believed it was fate.
His reply struck a chord. Later, he tried to call the reporter near the holidays, and even wrote a lengthy poem. Like trying to hit a tar baby, the more the reporter tried to extricate herself from him, the more bound to him she felt she'd become, partly because she could never forget the hideous details of what Prion told her, and partly because she's known all along that Utah can't hold him for long.
In more than one phone call, Prion stated he'd always had trouble with violent thoughts, that he was sometimes close to acting on them, but he didn't want to get in trouble. He wouldn't elaborate on his thoughts, except to say they were then directed at prison officials. He confided the medications never helped with his violent thoughts.
Soon, a local jury may decide whether the violence in Prion's head ever translated into the savage end to Diana Vicari.
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