Split verdict in jail inmate abuse trial

HATTIESBURG (AP) - Former correction officer Ryan Michael Teel was convicted Thursday on three federal charges related to the abuse of inmates at the Harrison County Jail.

Two of the counts involved the death of inmate Jessie Lee Williams Jr.

A co-defendant in the case, James Ricky "Rick" Gaston, was found not guilty on all three counts.

Members of Teel's family sobbed as the verdicts were read. Teel had tears in his eyes too when U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. remanded him to custody until his Nov. 1 sentencing hearing.

Gaston was excused from the courtroom and stopped to shake hands with federal prosecutors James Cotton Richmond and Lisa Krigsten on his way out.

The jury deliberated for seven hours before returning the verdicts.

Teel, 30, was a sergeant and an officer in charge of the booking room at the Harrison County Jail. Gaston, 52, was a captain in charge of inmate records, jail security and the booking room.

The men were accused of conspiring with others to threaten, injure and oppress inmates while acting under color of law.

The trial, which began last week in Hattiesburg, came 18 months after Williams died after an assault in February 2006. The death prompted a state and federal investigation.

Eight other former jailers pleaded guilty to various crimes and cooperated with prosecutors in the case.

Both Gaston and Teel testified during the trial. Teel acknowledged under cross examination that he acted "inappropriately" during a scuffle with inmate Only Al-Khidir by using pepper spray because the inmate kicked him in the groin. The inmate was reportedly handcuffed and lying on the floor when the attack occurred.

Gaston denied any involvement in abuses at the facility.