Two inmates charged with elderly inmate’s death at Southern Regional Jail

Two inmates charged with elderly inmate’s death at Southern Regional Jail
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 12:33 PM EDT
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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - Two inmates are formally charged with the death of an elderly inmate at Southern Regional Jail (SRJ).

According to the complaint, Douglas Cunningham was pronounced dead at BARH on October 29, 2022, after being booked on capias warrant at the jail.

The complaint said that when the state medical examiner looked at the inmate’s remains three days later, he was concerned over what he found -- broken ribs on the backside and fresh bruises. According to court records, State Police went back to interview other inmates in the pod and were informed by multiple sources that inmates Lucas Wagnar and Isaiah McBride had repeatedly attacked the 79-year-old, who was in a wheelchair for a portion of the stay. They said the two jumped on him from the top bunk, stomped on his chest, struck his kidneys, and called him a child molester (even though he was only there on a capias warrant).

Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Hatfield said both men were formally charged on Wednesday and Thursday under a section of the code not commonly used. 62-8-1 ‘Offenses by inmates’ says, “if any activity in A), even if it’s battery, results in the inmate’s death, it’s life without mercy.”

Hatfield said the code section is unique in that it does not provide for a finding of mercy, meaning that any inmate convicted of the crime would face an automatic life sentence and not be eligible for parole.

In an effort to improve conditions at the jail, he said he has also stepped-up prosecutions on a second subsection of that code, which allows for a 1-5 penalty for other crimes committed in the jail.

“That includes possession of a controlled substance by an inmate, transporting drugs onto the grounds of the jail, destruction of property, such as jamming a door or messing with a fire alarm. Fights that could be charged as battery...even if they’re misdemeanor offenses outside of the jail, if they’re inside the jail they’re felonies.”

Hatfield hopes that section will help crack down on inmates who break locks and other safety equipment at the jail and place other inmates and correctional officers at risk. In a state plagued by severe staffing shortages in its jails, he believes everyone has a part to play in ensuring inmate safety.

“We have to get a hold on what’s going on at Southern Regional Jail. This is our best attempt to use that statute.”

Both men are being held without bond. Hatfield said inmates being held on either subsection of that code are not eligible for release while the crimes are being prosecuted.