Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Vicari suspect’s life of crime got worse over time

Lemuel Prion is charged in the murder and dismemberment of the Tucson woman.

STEPHANIE INNES Citizen Staff Writer

The alleged killer of Pima Community College student Diana Dawn Vicari began accumulating his lengthy rap sheet at age 13.

Lemuel Prion, 35, was indicted in the 1992 slaying by a Pima County Grand Jury last month.

Despite his stints on probation and behind bars, the offenses he’s accused of committing have gotten worse over time.

”(Prion) has quite wide mood swings – very excitable at one minute and quiet the next. He’s a different sort of person,” said Sgt. Joe Boren of the Vernal Police Department in Utah.

Prion lived in Vernal between 1993 and 1995.

Vicari, 19, was last seen Oct. 23, 1992, in the parking lot of the Tucson Convention Center. Her arms were discovered the next day poking out of a trash bag in an alley north of downtown.

Her body has never been found.

”I am glad that they are finally bringing this person to justice, if this is the one who did it,” said the victim’s father, Tom Vicari, who lives in Washington state.

”I ask God for guidance, not only for the criminal justice system but also for Lemuel. I ask that he be guided and that he confess his guilt, if he is the one.”

Vicari family members say they had never heard of Prion until his name came up as a suspect two years ago.

But Prion, who also has used the name Frank Espinoza, is no stranger to the criminal justice system. He has an extensive criminal history that began as a youngster in North Carolina.

Born to teen-age parents, Prion was the elder of two boys. His parents divorced when he was a toddler, and the children lived with the father. Prion did not see his mother for several years.

Prion told a probation officer he recalls little of his youth and that he moved often, living in Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia. When Prion was about 10, his father married a divorced woman with three children.

Discipline was strict. Punishments included frequent ”whippings,” punches to the body and pokes with an electric cattle prod, according to his court records.

Prion’s father and stepmother split up when he was 13.

According to court records, Prion ran away and lived with an older boy for about six months. During that time, he said, he drank alcohol and smoked marijuana.

Prion’s juvenile court history began at 13 with his failure to attend school and progressed in severity to burglaries while he was in his late teens and to aggravated assault and rape in his adulthood.

The longest period of time he spent in prison was in Arizona, where he was locked up between 1986 and 1991 for raping a 15-year-old girl, whom court records say he threatened to ”put to sleep” if she did not meet his sexual demands.

The then-20-year-old Prion told the victim he was ”real sorry” for what he had done and that he needed help, his 1986 presentence report from Pima County Superior Court says.

Before pleading guilty to attempted sexual assault in the Tucson case, Prion was convicted of aggravated assault and battery for raping a woman in Rock Hill, S.C.

His presentence report says he acknowledged meeting a girl at a bar and scaring and intimidating her into having intercourse with him. He told a Pima County probation officer he never hit or threatened the girl. He swore he would never get into a similar situation again.

He was sentenced to four months in jail and three years’ probation for the South Carolina incident.

Shortly after his release from jail, the report says, he left South Carolina and returned to Tucson, where he worked as a dishwasher. Within a couple of weeks, he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl here.

Prion also has a history of alcohol abuse.

He told a probation officer before his sentencing in 1986 that he’d used amphetamines, cocaine, PCP, Valium, Quaaludes and LSD.

The presentence report from 1986 says Prion was ”unable to explain or understand his assaultive behavior.”

”He stated that he can behave rationally and logically at times while, at other times, he behaves in ways he cannot understand.”

The report concludes by saying a period of incarceration for Prion, combined with mental health and substance abuse counseling, would ”hopefully result in his returning to the community as a more mature, insightful, empathetic and controlled man.”

Yet after his release from prison, Prion remained in trouble with the law.

While in prison in 1989, he married a 40-year-old registered nurse from Tucson, but the couple divorced in 1992. Before the divorce, Prion’s estranged wife took out an order of protection with Tucson City Court, citing ”reasonable cause to believe (Prion) has committed or may commit an act of domestic violence.”

The order gives as examples of Prion’s domestic violence damage to the couple’s home and vehicle and exhibitions of ”threatening behavior.”

In the Utah Department of Corrections, Prion has an ”extensive history of write-ups for discipline problems,” according to department spokesman Jack Ford.

Ford added that Prion is in maximum security – a level of incarceration reserved for death row inmates and prisoners with behavior problems.


Lemuel Prion’s criminal history:

• 1975-78 – Prion amasses a juvenile court record in North Carolina for incorrigibility, failing to attend school and escaping from a boy’s training school where he was sent for violating probation.

After an arrest in 1978 for two non-residential burglaries, he is sentenced to prison as a youthful offender. He remains incarcerated for two years.

• Mid-1981 – Prion is living in Tucson, where he’d moved from North Carolina. He is indicted on burglary charges after an attempt to steal gasoline and flees to Florida, where he assumes an alias and, according to court records, often lives on the streets.

• Early 1982 – After a misdemeanor arrest for ”disorderly intoxication,” Prion, 20, is extradited from Florida to North Carolina and spends a few months in a youth institution there.

• December 1982 – Prion is sentenced to two years in prison for burglarizing a Tucson convenience store.

• Mid-1985 – He is convicted of aggravated assault and battery for raping a girl he met at a bar in South Carolina. He is sentenced to four months’ jail time and three years’ probation.

• January 1986 – Prion is sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted sexual assault in connection with raping a 15year-old girl in Tucson. While he’s awaiting sentencing, Pima County Jail staff describe him as a drug abuser and ”an impulsive, poorly motivated young man with little insight.”

• March 1991 – Prion leaves prison on supervised release, Arizona Department of Corrections records show. His behavior record in prison shows no major infractions.

• Oct. 24, 1992 – Pima Community College student Diana Dawn Vicari, 19, is reported missing. She was last seen alive shortly after midnight Oct. 23 in the parking lot of the Tucson Convention Center, where she’d been looking for friends.

About the same time that Vicari is reported missing, her arms are found protruding from a plastic bag at the top of a trash heap, just north of downtown Tucson.

At the time of the Vicari murder, Prion is living in Tucson.

• March 1993 – Prion moves to Utah, where he is charged and later convicted of aggravated assault in connection with trying to beat his father, John Prion, on the head with a baseball bat.

While incarcerated in the Uintah County Jail, he is charged with possessing a homemade weapon.

Prion’s sentence to the Utah Department of Corrections, which he began serving in 1995, ranges from one to 15 years for his most serious offense, department spokesman Jack Ford said. The exact length of the sentence is reviewed yearly by the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which considers inmates’ behavior while incarcerated.

Prion has had several discipline problems while in prison, Ford said, and is housed in a maximum-security unit.

• January 1995 – Tucson police say Prion is a prime suspect in Vicari’s death. In an interview with the Tucson Citizen, Tucson police Detective Joseph E. Salgado says Prion took a lie detector test about his involvement in Vicari’s slaying and ”failed miserably.”

Salgado, without elaborating, also says Prion is suspected of threatening to harm prostitutes in Tucson.

• Aug. 28 – Prion, still incarcerated in Utah, is indicted on first-degree murder, sexual assault, aggravated assault and kidnapping charges in connection with Vicari’s murder. Both the police and Pima County Attorney’s Office decline further comment in order to ensure a fair trial.

Vicari’s body has yet to be found.

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