Four More Former Jailers Sentenced - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Four More Former Jailers Sentenced

The defendants apologized for their actions. Their loved ones begged the judge for mercy. That was the scene in federal court Tuesday as more former jailers were sentenced for their part in the jail abuse scandal.

Thomas Preston Wills received the most severe sentence. The man whose lifelong dream was to become a police officer like his father, was given three years, five months in prison.

Wills admitted he was ashamed of his behavior. "I'm at the mercy of the court now. I never thought in a million years this is where I'd be," he said. 

The husky man, who family members described as a loving father and brother, took responsibility for his actions.  He told the judge he "was ashamed."

"I wanted to be somebody's hero in life," said Wills, "I realize things that I've done were very, very wrong."

Wills told Judge Guirola, "I took an oath to protect the people who can't protect themselves. I feel I'm one of those people I swore to protect others from."

Wills' attorney, David Morrison, pointed to problems at the jail for contributing to his client's actions.

"They have a week of training and then they're thrown in with murderers and rapists," he told the court.

Outside the courthouse, the attorney echoed concerns he's heard from others about the equity in sentencing.

"Couldn't figure out how someone who helped kill somebody could get 18 months, but the people who didn't help kill somebody got years. It's a hypothetical question, I think, is legitimate. I don't have an answer for it," said Morrison.

He was referring to the fact that former jailer Regina Rhodes was sentenced to 18 months in jail.  She was the first to cooperate with investigators, but she also took part in the assault on inmate Jessie Lee Williams Jr. whose death sparked the federal investigation.

Former jail supervisor Dedri Caldwell took full responsibility, telling the court, "I got involved in something I'm not proud of. I won't point fingers at anyone."

She was sentenced to two years in prison.

Judge Guirola told her she bore additional responsibility while working as a supervisor at the jail. He said she "set a bad example" for those she supervised.

Her attorney said he's been impressed by her behavior and her truthfulness.

"Just about 11 months ago, Ms. Caldwell entered her initial guilty plea and she made a promise at that time she was going to do everything she could to right the wrongs that she and others had done. And we believe she's done that and she's happy with the sentence she received and looks forward to moving on with the future," said attorney Robert Harenski.

Former U.S. Marine Daniel Evans also prefers looking forward. He too apologized for his actions, before receiving a sentence of three years. His father made an emotional plea on his son's behalf, begging for the court's mercy.

Evans told the judge, "I apologize for my involvement. If I could turn back the hands of time, I would have made better decisions."

His attorney, Cecil Woods, also pointed to bad conditions at the Harrison County jail. Woods told the court, "There has been a lack of proper control and supervision at that jail for more than 20 years."

Outside the courthouse, Evans was remorseful.

"I just want to say I'm glad that this is all over with. That my family can finally move on with our lives and salvage whatever we have left of our lives," he said.

Broderick Fulton admitted assaulting an inmate in the shower area and breaking the prisoner's jaw. On the witness stand, Fulton said the man had used a racial slur.

Judge Guirola ruled the jailer's response was over the line. Said the judge: For an individual to lose control, that's bad. For a law enforcement officer, it's unacceptable.

Melvin Cooper was Fulton's attorney.

"In view of the totality of the circumstances, I think it was a fair decision and we're satisfied," he said, after his client received two years and nine months.

During this jail abuse case, there has been much finger-pointing at "a broken system" at the Harrison County jail. One defense attorney today said the atmosphere at the jail was "horrible and unsupervised."

This is the last of the former jailers to be sentenced, at least for now. Special prosecutor and district attorney Cono Caranna said the investigation into jail abuse remains open.

By Steve Phillips

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