A New Orleans inmate awaiting trial on accusations that he bludgeoned an elderly woman to death at a group home last summer was found dead yesterday morning in his jail cell, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Ricky Russell, 26, is the 39th person to die at the embattled Orleans Parish Prison since 2006. Dr. Samuel Gore, Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s medical director, said there was no sign of violence or trauma at the scene, and a preliminary autopsy eliminated homicide as a possible manner of death.
Suicide, an accident, or a reaction to medication remain possibilities, pending the results of a final autopsy, which should take about four weeks to complete. Katie Schwartzmann, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Louisiana Office, which filed a federal lawsuit, joined by the Department of Justice, that resulted in a pending consent decree, said, “This is exactly what we’ve been saying for years now: The jail is in crisis, the mental health system is in crisis, there are not enough deputies to supervise the inmates. It is tragic, but inevitable given the circumstances of the jail.”