After a three hour sentencing hearing in federal court, Judge Louis Guirola sentenced former Harrison County jailer Ryan Teel to a term of life in prison for the beating death of inmate Jesse Lee Williams, Jr. in February 2006.
Teel was convicted of civil rights violations and using excessive force against Williams. He was found guilty after a week-long trial in August. The actual sentence was two life terms on the first two counts and 20 years in prison on count three.
"We took a long process to go through, but at the end of the day we have two life sentences and the 240 months for the cover up. And so I think this was a worthwhile process to go through," Special Federal Prosecutor Cono Caranna said.
"We have a pending motion for a new trial. I thought he was going to rule on that today, but I guess he, quite frankly I think he was emotionally moved over what took place in the courtroom, from not only my client and his family, but also the Williams family," Teel's attorney, Jim Davis, said.
"I'm very happy. He's got life. That's for my brother," Jessie Lee Williams' Brother Terry said.
"I am so glad justice is done. My cousin can rest in peace. His grandmother. His father. All of us can rest in peace. Thank you, thank you, for all the supporters. And we're just happy," Jessie Lee Williams' Cousin Karla Joseph said.
Two of Willams' family members and the family minister testified Thursday morning, as did Teel's wife and father. Rev. Kenneth Davis offered strong comments to the court about what Williams' death has done to the community.
"A lot of people don't trust law enforcers now. It's time to move forward. This was murder," Davis said.
Two of Jesse Williams' cousins called him a kind and good man.
Ryan Teel's wife, Serena, apologized to the Williams family. She pleaded with Federal Judge Louis Guirola for leniency for her husband.
"It would be a shame to lose two lives here. Ryan is a good man from a loving father," Serena Teel said.
She told the Williams family, "I'm sorry. If I could take away your pain, I'm sorry."
Wes Teel begged the judge to have mercy on his son. He said, "I believe the Ryan I know did not intentionally mean to kill Mr. Williams. I'm begging you to do something less than life."
During his comments to the court just before sentencing, Ryan Teel extended his deepest and heartfelt apologies to the Williams family, saying he was sorry for the events that took place, and sorry for their loss. Members of the family question his sincerity.
"He expresses his apology, but it wasn't from the heart," Terry Williams said. "He read it from a piece of paper."
The biggest legal question during Thursday's hearing was whether the underlying crime was murder or manslaughter. Federal prosecutor Lisa Krigsten reminded the court of other inmates that Teel had abused. She told the judge, "The hallmark of his career at the jail was malice."
Judge Guirola ruled that second degree murder was the offense. Guirola said Teel's actions in the Williams beating, "demonstrated a callous disregard for human life."
Defense attorney Jim Davis argued the incident was, "nothing more than a fistfight and fights are bad, people sometimes get hurt."
Davis also alluded to conditions at the Harrison County Jail as contributing to the crime. Davis told Judge Guirola, when George Payne took office, he worked to create an environment in which corrections officers were quick to discipline.
"Conditions at the jail led to this. I don't want to see this young man be the scapegoat for a problem we all could be blamed for," Davis said.