By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - Authorities in Florida charged two prison inmates on Tuesday with shooting themselves with a smuggled pistol in a foiled scheme to sue the state for their injuries in hopes of reducing their sentences.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said in a statement that five others - the mother of one wounded convict and the sister of the other, along with their girlfriends and a fellow convict - were accused of assisting in the scheme. Two women charged in the case were still at large, authorities said.
The statement said inmates Kirk Cartwright and Deshandre Billups had claimed they were shot "by an unknown person" with a .25 caliber pistol on March 22 while praying in their cell at the Columbia Correctional Institution in north Florida.
Investigators said the men, who had experience in smuggling drugs and cellphones into the prison, conspired to have the gun mailed to them. The statement did not specify the nature of the injuries the men sustained in the self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Cartwright, 33, is serving life in prison for murder. Billups, 26, is serving a 20-year sentence for robbery with a deadly weapon and armed burglary.
The law enforcement department said the men intended to sue the state for their injuries, thinking they could settle for sentence reductions.
Both men face new charges of possessing a firearm inside a prison, bringing contraband into the institution, 10 counts of unauthorized written communications, 10 counts of possessing cell phones in prison, and possession of a firearm and ammunition by convicted felons, authorities said.
Authorities said more arrests and charges are expected.
State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister of Lake City, who is prosecuting the case, was not immediately available for comment.
(Editing by David Adams and Will Dunham)