MIDWEST CITY, OK (KOCO/CNN) - After spending a little more than a year in prison, a man convicted of the 1997 murder of an 8-year-old girl was found dead in his cell.
Authorities identified 59-year-old Anthony Palma as an inmate killed Friday night at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. His cellmate is believed to be responsible for the death, according to officials.
Palma was sentenced to life without parole in October 2017 after a jury found him guilty of murdering 8-year-old Kirsten Hatfield, who was reported missing from her home in May 1997.
Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said he was alerted of Palma’s death Saturday night. He’s been in contact with members of Kirsten’s family, who have mixed feelings about the news.
"From a moral compass, you want to say the politically correct things, but it obviously geared up a lot of emotions on my part,” Clabes said. “Anthony Palma … kidnapped Kirsten, murdered her, disposed of her body, then lived two doors down for many, many years without a conscious.”
Clabes was one of the responding officers on the night Kirsten vanished over 20 years ago. He says the 24 hours following the news of Palma’s death was a roller coaster of emotions for everyone involved in the case.
"We were shocked, thrilled and also heartbroken. We're heartbroken by the fact we may never know where Kirsten's been buried or what happened to her body,” Clabes said.
Shannon Hazen, Kirsten’s mother, is very shaken up by the news and trying to process everything that’s happened, according to Clabes.
"I can't imagine losing your child the way that she lost Kirsten, and then, to find out the murderer – who did receive justice through our court system – has now been murdered himself. And we still haven't found her body. So, my heart goes out to that family and everybody involved in the case because there is no closure. It's still wide open for us,” he said.
Corrections officials will release the name of Palma’s cellmate if he’s charged with a crime.
The death is still under investigation. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy.