Former Harrison Co. jailer will not face death penalty

Published 12:20 am Sunday, February 25, 2007

U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton says that after an extensive review, a decision has been reached not to pursue the death penalty in the prosecution of former Harrison County jailer Ryan Teel.

Lampton said the decision was made by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales following a meeting in Washington.

Teel, who remains in jail, faces a May 28 trial for the Feb. 4, 2006, fatal beating of inmate Jessie Lee Williams Jr.

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Teel, 30, was in charge of the booking room the night of the beating. He has been held at an undisclosed location since his arrest Aug. 28, 2006.

He pleaded not guilty to charges of deprivation of civil rights under color of law and of falsifying records to obstruct a federal investigation.

The decision by Gonzalez came after Teel’s attorneys and federal prosecutors met with a U.S. Justice Department review panel in Washington.

“No reason was given,” Lampton told the newspaper. “There’s all kinds of arguments for it, but it was his call. I’ve tried a number of death cases and in this case, I think it’s the right decision. It’s better to start the case off without the jury or the judge having to deal with the death-penalty issue.”

Now, Teel could face life in prison if convicted on the civil rights charge.

Jim Davis, the lead defense attorney, said Teel is relieved over the decision.

U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge John M. Roper had denied bond for Teel after his arrest, saying Teel was a possible flight risk and danger to others. The defense is now asking for a bond review, noting that Teel’s detention was ordered before the death-penalty issue was decided.

The family of the 40-year-old Williams, who had been taken to jail on misdemeanors, has been informed, said Michael W. Crosby, lead attorney for Williams’ estate.

Three weeks before Teel’s arrest, ex-jailer Regina Rhodes admitted she had helped beat Williams. Rhodes and four other former jailers have entered plea agreements, admitting a conspiracy to deprive hundreds of inmates of their rights. Rhodes awaits sentencing, as do former jailers Morgan Thompson, Dedri Caldwell, Preston Wills and William Jeffery Priest.