In a wrongful-death lawsuit, the mother of a murdered inmate at Red Onion State Prison accuses the guards of helping a known killer set up her son’s strangulation in 2010.

In return for favors that made their jobs easier, the guards allowed the attacker to both slip a noose onto the prison’s recreation yard and orchestrate which inmates would witness the murder, the lawsuit claims. The guards then refrained from checking on them for more than an hour.

“The murder … could not have happened without the intentional participation, complicity or deliberate indifference of all these Defendants [guards],” the lawsuit states.

As a result, Aaron A. Cooper, 26, who was serving 34 years for a string of robberies and carjackings, died July 28, 2010, without anyone screaming for help or coming to his rescue.

His mother,Kim Strickland, seeks $ 290 million in compensatory damages and $ 10 million in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Big Stone Gap against Department of Corrections officials and guards.

The killer is Robert C. Gleason Jr., now awaiting execution onVirginia’s death row for strangling cellmate Harvey Watson, 63, on May 8, 2009, while at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap and then Cooper, slightly more than a year later while at Red Onion in Pound.

He was initially sentenced to life without parole in 2008 for shooting a man to death inAmherstCounty.

At Red Onion, Gleason, 42, strangled Cooper with a braided bed sheet threaded through the chain-link wall shared by their individual recreation cages.

According to the lawsuit, the guards “left their posts intentionally, arranged for others to do so or deliberately chose not to respond to assist Aaron Cooper during the attack by Gleason.”

A Bristol Herald Courier review of the grainy, black-and-white surveillance tape that captured the murder seems to show that Gleason had ample time to tug on the noose, let go to pace in the cage for several minutes, and return to tug some more on the noose.

Guards appear in the video twice — an hour and 15 minutes apart. They are first seen escorting Cooper into the cage adjoining Gleason’s at 12:29 p.m. Then they leave, returning at 1:43 p.m. to find Cooper’s body slumped over in his cage.

Gleason, in a phone interview last December, said he never worried that guards would intervene.

“I didn’t care because I knew they weren’t going to come until [rec time was over],” he said. “If rec time had lasted four hours … then they weren’t going to come for four hours.”

At Red Onion, guards would give extra food or more time at certain activities to inmates who offered to forgo showers or trips to the rec yard, former inmates told the Herald Courier. This way, guards spent less time shuffling inmates throughout the prison and found a few extra minutes for other duties.

“It was part of a trade system that “turned up a knife and drugs provided by guards to inmates in the not too distant past,” the lawsuit reads.

Gleason manipulated this system to fill the rec yard with inmates who would keep quiet and look the other way as Cooper died, it states.

The Virginia Department of Corrections has repeatedly refused to comment on security procedures or release copies of Red Onion’s policy for monitoring the rec yard.

According to the lawsuit, Gleason tricked Cooper into slipping the braided noose around his neck by telling him it was part of a religious necklace that needed to be sized. In a videotaped police interrogation, Gleason is seen claiming this to be the ruse used to trap his victim.

In later interviews and court hearings, Gleason said he conned Cooper with the idea of faking a strangulation meant to win his mother some money in a lawsuit against the prison.

Cooper, the lawsuit states, was an easy target who “suffered from untreated mental illness; he was young, impressionable, and eager to feel safe and accepted.”