Mom searches for answers after son is killed at Central State Prison

At 68, Nancy Masters got permanent custody of her 4-year-old grandson Memphis.

Instead of pursuing her plans to travel and spend more time scuba diving in retirement, Masters now wakes up early to take Memphis to school and often spends her mornings calling attorneys  for help in dealing with the Georgia Department of Corrections. 

Masters’ son Joshua Carl Haynes Lester was killed while serving time at Central State Prison on  July 28, 2021. He was 34 and was expected to come home in August of 2022.

Masters remembers the night vividly.

“I got a phone call. It said Macon and I thought it was Joshua because that was about the time he would always call to talk to me,” she said.

The person on the phone asked if this was Ms. Masters and she said, yes, “They said, ‘Well, there’s been an altercation at the facility and your son is deceased.’ That’s the way I found out.” 

Masters took Memphis next door and went into the garage to scream. A neighbor came to help and she handed over the phone.

“I wasn’t crying, I was just screaming,” she recalls.

She was later told by the sheriff that they should have been sent over a representative and a chaplain to her home in Dalton in person to give her the news of her son’s death, but instead, she only had that phone call.

“I’ve just been trying to get justice for him every day since then,” she says. 

While Nancy Masters plans to file a civil suit or a wrongful death suit, she has been unable to move forward because the Department of Corrections won’t release the report of Lester’s death because the investigation is still pending. She was told that she would need an attorney to subpoena the investigation record because they won’t release it until the assailant has been sentenced. But she  said it’s to find an attorney that would be willing to work on her son’s case. 

“I’ve called so many attorneys,” she says. “And they just say it’s so hard, and the ones that do this, they were swamped and couldn’t take another case.” The lawyers she is working with now would like to see the investigation report to see if he feels like Masters has a case for wrongful death. 

Masters is also working against a clock. She only has a year after her son’s death to file the suit and despite her weekly calls, she has still been unable to find the out necessary information about her son’s death. First, she was told by the warden that there was a video of the incident, but in a subsequent call, she was told that there wasn’t. She was told that witnesses had been moved to keep them safe but, in another call, she found out that wasn’t the case. She was able to talk to another inmate from Dalton who had spoken to a witness, and she was able to independently get the autopsy report. 

Lester had been stabbed through the back, puncturing both his heart and his lungs. Masters’ understanding was that he had tried to stop an altercation between inmates and no guards were around.

“So the inmates went to look for a maintenance worker to go get the guards, and when they finally got there, he was gone,” she said.  

Her grandson, Memphis, reminds her of her son.

“I’m all Memphis has,” she says. “It’s bittersweet because he looks so much like his daddy and acts so much like his daddy, but he is he is my blessing.”

They have a date set in May to finalize the adoption.