By Nicholas Grube

Triplicate staff writer

A conspiracy involving former Pelican Bay State Prison correctional officers is at the center of a murder trial set for jury selection Tuesday in Del Norte Superior Court.

On trial is Duke K. Bolter, a Pelican Bay inmate already serving a 35-to-life sentence for a previous murder conviction. Bolter is now charged with killing fellow Pelican Bay inmate William S. Boyd on March 9, 1998.

Boyd, who was serving a 28-to-life sentence for a Riverside County murder, was stabbed to death on the exercise yard at Pelican Bay.

However, the circumstances leading up to Boyd's death, rather than the murder itself, are at issue in the trial.

According to court documents, Bolter's defense hinges on piecing together a conspiracy to prove former Pelican Bay prison guards ordered Boyd's killing and that Bolter was not the murderer.

During the late 1990s, several Pelican Bay prison guards were charged with coordinating assaults on inmates who were serving time for child molestation. These correctional officers allegedly provided inmates with the knowledge needed to carry out attacks - or hits - on these sexual offenders.

One of these guards, Jose Garcia, was on trial in 1998 for the conspiracy charges. He eventually was found guilty and convicted of conspiracy to assault inmates.

Boyd, who supposedly was a andquot;shot-callerandquot; or person who ordered hits on other inmates, testified against Garcia in this trial.

Boyd was stabbed two months later.

The defense will attempt to prove that Boyd's death was retribution for him fingering Garcia in the conspiracty trial.

But to show that this is true, Bolter and his defense will rely on the testimony of convicted criminals housed at prisons throughout the country, court documents say. These convicts, through their testimony, will try to show that Garcia and the other prison guards orchestrated the hit on Boyd and that it was indeed a different inmate who stabbed Boyd.

Both the prosecution and defense lawyers declined to comment on the trial since a jury has not been selected.

The case was first filed in May 1999 and has been through eight years of motions and delays. It reached this point in the judicial process in November 2006, but was again postponed.

All inmates who will testify in Bolter's trial will be housed at Pelican Bay, one of the toughest correctional facilities in the country. Nearly 80 percent of Pelican Bay's inmates will never live outside of its walls.

Bolter, who currently resides at Pelican Bay, is a level 4 inmate in the Secure Housing Unit of the prison, an isolation unit that segregates him from the rest of the prison population.