JACKSON –The cellmate of Rexdale Wayne Henry, a Choctaw tribal politician who died in the Neshoba County jail on July 14, has been charged with murder in the case.
Sheriff Tommy Waddell said Thursday that 34-year-old Justyn Schlegel was arrested this week in connection with Henry’s death.
“It was another inmate who was in the cell him at the time of his death. He remains in custody and is charged with murder,” Waddell said.
Some civil rights activists have been raising questions about the death of the 53-year-old member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, especially in light of heightened national scrutiny over deaths in police custody.
Henry was arrested July 9 for failing to pay fines due to the city of Philadelphia, Waddell said. The city uses the county jail. He was last seen alive about 30 minutes before his death, authorities have said.
Waddell wouldn’t say how or why Schlegel is alleged to have killed Henry, saying the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is still finalizing autopsy results. MBI spokesman Warren Strain said the investigation is ongoing. After that, Waddell said the case would be turned over to Neshoba County District Attorney Mark Duncan.
Henry, a resident of the Bogue Chitto portion of the Choctaw reservation east of Philadelphia, recently lost a run for the tribal council seat representing that area. He formerly worked at Pearl River Resort, the tribe’s casino complex, and was the brother of Choctaw tribal Vice Chief Ronnie Henry.
Waddell said both Henry’s family and the tribe have been notified of Schlegel’s arrest.
“We met with them at the Pearl River reservation and gave them as much detail as we could,” he said.
A tribal spokeswoman declined comment Thursday, while family members could not be reached.
Waddell said Schlegel, who lives near Philadelphia, was arrested because of a “family disturbance.” Schlegel was convicted for possession of methamphetamine precursors in Winston County in 2009 and served a year in state prison, according to Mississippi Department of Corrections records. He was paroled in 2010, but returned to prison for a time in 2012. He remains on probation, meaning authorities may be able to keep him in jail by revoking his probation. Strain said he wasn’t sure when Schlegel would make a preliminary appearance before a judge, and didn’t know if he had a lawyer.
Janis McDonald, a Syracuse University law professor and co-director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative, said supporters of the Henry family raised money to send Henry’s body to Florida for a second autopsy after his July 19 funeral. She said she didn’t know the results from the second autopsy, but said she has “serious questions” about the case.
“It doesn’t end here,” McDonald said. She has likened Henry’s death to that of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail, saying it’s important to question why minorities are arrested for minor charges only to die in jail.
In May, the county settled a federal lawsuit claiming Waddell inappropriately ordered a deputy to ram an allegedly stolen car in a 2012 chase, and then the sheriff himself shot a passenger in the neck. Waddell said the shooting was accidental and denied wrongdoing. Terms of the settlement aren’t filed in court records.
The county has also been sued by family members of Michael McDougle Sr., who claims the man died in the jail from head trauma in November after being beaten by Philadelphia police officers and county jailers. Duncan has said an MBI investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the McDougle case, and lawyers for the county have denied McDougle was mistreated at the jail.
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