State prison officials believe man convicted for Harrison County child molestation strangled by cellmate

1362774086_2080_HomicideJACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — A prisoner serving time for child molestation was strangled by a fellow inmate earlier this month at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, prison officials said Tuesday.

Management and Training Corp., the Utah-based company that runs the prison for the state, said Tuesday officers found 71-year-old Charles Elliot McGrew alone and unresponsive in his cell on June 10, with a rope made of sheets tied around his neck. He was pronounced dead at a Meridian hospital.

McGrew was serving a 15-year sentence for unlawful touching of a child in Harrison County. MTC spokesman Issa Arnita said McGrew was found when prison workers were going to get him for a medical appointment. Arnita said that it wasn’t clear how long it had been since officers had previously checked on McGrew.

Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Grace Fisher confirmed McGrew’s identity but referred comment to MTC.

Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said officials don’t believe McGrew was hanged but instead believe he was strangled by his cellmate, whom Sollie did not name. The sheriff said a grand jury will likely be asked to indict the cellmate.

“There’s no rush to formally charge anyone with any crime because those people aren’t going anywhere,” Sollie said of inmates.

The prison near Meridian is supposed to specialize in caring for mentally ill inmates. Arnita said the suspect has suffered from depression in the past, but said McGrew was not being treated for mental illness.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued the state in 2013 over what the groups called “barbaric” conditions at East Mississippi, saying inmates are isolated for long stretches, sometimes in filthy cells with rats and broken toilets and are denied access to medical and mental health care.

Lawyers are researching prison conditions in the suit right now, in preparation for seeking class-action status.

“We will definitely be taking a close look at Mr. McGrew’s death,” said Gabriel Eber, a lawyer for the ACLU’s National Prison Project.