Clay inmate charged with fellow inmate's murder

Cameron Henderson
Staff Writer

A 20-year-old West Point man is charged with murder after an autopsy rules the death of a Clay County Jail inmate was homicide.

Cameron Henderson was charged Monday evening with the Friday morning murder of 54-year-old Dale O’Neal in the cell they shared in the misdemeanor wing of the jail. During a brief arraignment Tuesday morning, a judge set no bond because he is a possible danger to himself and a flight risk.

O’Neal, who had been in jail since March 8 for trespassing and failing to appear in court on older charges, was due to be released Friday because he’d completed serving his time on both city and county charges.

He was found in the cell at about 7:40 a.m. when a jailer responded to other inmates “hollering about a man down,” Sheriff Eddie Scott said.

Jailers can monitor hallways via surveillance cameras but can’t see inside cells. When the jailer got to the cell, he found O’Neal on the floor unresponsive.

Emergency responders were called and jail personnel tried to resuscitate O’Neal but couldn’t. Because it happened in the jail, the Mississippi Bureau pf Investigation was called in and arrived before 9 a.m.

The autopsy results Monday determined O’Neal died from strangulation. Sources tell the Daily Times Leader a short phone cord about 24 to 30 inches in length was around his neck.

Medical experts said a person can’t choke themselves to death because they will pass out before death occurs. That is what prompted the intensive investigation into O’Neal’s death.

Neither man has a history of violence in the jail or their criminal records, according to Scott and a search of Clay County court records.

Henderson, who has a history of drug and alcohol issues as well as mental health concerns, was the only other inmate in the cell.

He was booked at 2:30 p.m. March 13 by West Point Police on misdemeanor charges of shoplifting and disturbing the peace.

Jailers had been in contact with both inmates throughout the night and breakfast trays had been delivered earlier that morning.

“There was no indication of any kinds of trouble or issue at that point,” Scott said of the jail staff.

The jail was on lockdown much of Friday while the incident was being investigated.

Henderson has given the MBI a statement, but the contents of that statement still are being verified.

“The MBI still is looking into it all,” Scott said.

The jail can hold a maximum of 172 inmates with about 40 in the misdemeanor wing. Each cell has a phone inmates can use to make calls to friends and family. They are charged on their inmate canteen account.

The cord is about two feet long so inmates can stand slightly away from the wall and talk. But is being changed now. Scott already had some changes in the works through a new security system that is being installed as part of the county’s move to a new Justice Center.

The courts plan to do many arraignments and hearings for Justice and Circuit courts by video to cut down on the need to transport inmates back and forth from jail to the new center.

The city of West Point is investigating the same system for use in city court to free up officers who now often are tied up taking prisoners to and from city court and monitoring them there.

“It’ll free up a man to be patrolling,” City Administrator Randy Jones said of the “virtual” system being studied by the city.

The phone cords are short and connect the one inmate phone in each cell.