BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Two men who are incarcerated at Southern Regional Jail were charged with homicide in the October 29, 2022 death of a 79-year-old man who shared a cell with them.
All of this is according to a criminal complaint filed June 7, 2023, in Raleigh County Magistrate Court.
Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Hatfield said on Thursday, June 8, 2023, that Isaiah McBride, 27, and Lucas Wagnar, 28, are charged with homicide by an inmate and other charges in the death of Douglas Cunningham.
The charges are permitted under Chapter 62 of West Virginia Code for crimes committed by inmates.
If found guilty, Wagnar and McBride will be ineligible for mercy during sentencing.
“We plan to utilize Chapter 62 as a bit of a sword to help us get hold of the problems that are persisting out of Southern Regional Jail,” said Hatfield. “We hope that this acts as a deterrent.”
Hatfield said a number of crimes fall under the code and that his office will be using Chapter 62 prosecutions as a means of deterring crime committed by incarcerated against corrections officers and others who are incarcerated.
According to the criminal complaint, Raleigh County 911 dispatchers notified West Virginia State Police troopers around 3:05 p.m. on October 29 that Cunningham was being taken via ambulance to Beckley ARH Hospital.
He was pronounced dead around forty minutes later.
When the investigating state trooper called Southern Regional Jail, a jail worker notified police Cunningham was transported for “what looked like a medical emergency.”
On November 1, 2022, Dr. Jacqueline Benjamin of the West Virginia State Medical Examiner’s Office notified police that Cunningham had fresh bruises on his face and “broken ribs near his back that were not consistent with CPR.”
The call from Benjamin prompted police to speak with the Southern Regional Jail corrections officer who had been assigned the case, according to the complaint.
The jail officer notified police that Cunningham had been housed in Pod A — a suicide watch pod. As a result, inmate cells doors had been shut and locked, according to the complaint.
Police interviewed cellmates of Cunningham, who told police jail guards “brought the victim into the cell in a wheelchair and was placed in the floor.”
One cellmate alleged Wagnar and McBride began to spit and urinate on Cunningham and to accuse him of being a “child molester.”
The cellmate said the two men beat Cunningham with their fists, kicked him in the groin, took his lunch tray and that Wagnar penetrated the victim with an object, prompting Hatfield to charge Wagnar with penetration by an inmate, a felony, said Hatfield.
Wagnar jumped from a bunk bed onto the elderly man, and Wagnar and McBride continued to kick and punch him, including near his kidneys, according to the criminal complaint.
Wagnar told police he had been asleep and learned Cunningham had no pulse around 3 p.m. He denied harming Cunningham but said McBride had attacked the victim.
The complaint states McBride told police he had been sexually abused as a child and admitted to hitting the victim in the face.
On February 24, 2023, The State Medical Examiner’s Office notified West Virginia State Police that Cunningham died of coronary artery disease with high blood pressure, diabetes and blunt impact head, chest and abdominal injuries as contributing factors.
However, the death was ruled a homicide, according to the complaint.
Hatfield said the ability of law enforcement agents to prosecute homicide cases depends heavily on the West Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office ruling a death a homicide.
In the complaint, a witness told police McBride had allegedly confessed to killing another inmate “pretty much the same way” as Cunningham. The inmate offered the name “Allen Shrewsbury” as the other alleged homicide victim.
Miranda Smith of Wyoming County said on Thursday, June 8, 2023, that her father, Alvis Shrewsbury, died in August 2022, after spending 19 days at Southern Regional Jail on a DUI charge.
Smith alleged her father was beaten and that other inmates had taken his food tray, causing him to lose weight.
The West Virginia Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Shrewsbury died of an upper gastro-intestinal bleed, which is a natural death, said Smith.
Shrewsbury’s family documented bruising to Shrewsbury’s face during his incarceration. They have filed a lawsuit against Southern Regional Jail.