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Inmate found hanged

By Ed Brock

A Griffin man was found hanged in his Clayton County jail cell and his cellmate said he slept through it.

Correction officers found Jay Harold Cockrell, 38, of Old Atlanta Road, hanging in his jail cell at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center in Jonesboro around 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle said.

"We had last contact with Mr. Cockrell when we were doing cell checks around 7 or 7:30 a.m.," Tuggle said.

After his body was found, Cockrell was taken to Southern Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 11 a.m.

Cockrell had been in the jail on a bench warrant for theft by taking since Friday, Tuggle said, and he gave no indication that he was suicidal or that he suffered from any mental illness.

The cellmate was still asleep when the guards discovered the body. Tuggle said the cellmate had heard nothing.

This is the second death to occur at the jail and Tuggle said the method Cockrell used was similar to the way in which 19-year-old Northur Burks hanged himself on Oct. 26, 2002. In that incident Burks managed to get his sheet attached to the upper cot of his cell, Tuggle said at the time, but the sheriff did not specify how Burks did that.

As in the Burks case, Tuggle said there would be an internal investigation into the hanging.

"Once these things happen we look to see what we can do," Tuggle said. "Really it depends on how determined they are to commit suicide."

The cells at the jail are prefabricated individual units stacked together and are designed to make suicide difficult.

The interior of each cell is kept plain. No decorations are allowed on the walls. The simple toilet/sink combination is all burnished steel, even the mirror, making it impossible to break into sharp porcelain or glass shards.

There is nothing on the ceiling to which one could attach a rope or, as in Burks' and Cockrell's cases, the sheets from the cot so that they could be used in a suicide.

Other inmates told investigators that Cockrell was quiet and not outgoing, but Tuggle said that is not necessarily an indication that he was suicidal.

Cockrell's nearest relatives live in Ohio, Tuggle said, but his ex-wife is believed to live in Griffin. Tuggle said he did not have a record of whether Cockrell had a job.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is expected do an autopsy on Cockrell's body.