DA sworn in to help with federal investigation

Published 7:06 pm Friday, August 25, 2006

The district attorney for Harrison and Hancock counties has been appointed a special assistant U.S. attorney.

Cono Caranna was appointed to the position to help with the investigation into the death of Jessie Lee Williams Jr., who died after an alleged beating by Harrison County jail personnel.

Caranna announced the appointment Wednesday in a statement. He was sworn in by U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert H. Walker at the request of U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton.

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Williams died after being removed from life support Feb. 6, two days after his alleged beating in the jail’s booking room.

Regina Lynn Rhodes, a jailer who was fired in April, pleaded guilty in July to injuring Williams with repeated blows to his neck, back and legs while he was restrained. She will be sentenced Oct. 16. She faces up to 13 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for violating Williams’ civil rights.

She said in her plea agreement that a supervisory deputy and other jail employees encouraged the beating of inmates “in circumstances that did not justify the use of force.”

Sheriff George H. Payne Jr. last week reassigned warden Maj. Dianne Gatson-Riley and appointed former Department of Corrections commissioner Don Cabana to the position.

Payne has acknowledged a need for changes at the prison, but said a few employees were to blame for the problems.