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Former correctional officer pleads guilty in connection with death of 19-year-old inmate

3 years 3 months 8 hours ago Thursday, December 26 2019 Dec 26, 2019 December 26, 2019 6:22 PM December 26, 2019 in News
Source: WWL-TV
Nimali Henry

ST. BERNARD PARISH - A former St. Bernard Parish Jail correctional officer plans to plead guilty in federal court in connection with the death of a 19-year-old inmate in 2014. 

According to WWL-TV, 19-year-old Nimali Henry died while in custody at St. Bernard Parish Jail and one of the correctional officers accused of her death, Debra Becnel, has changed her plea from 'not guilty' to 'guilty.'

Court records cited by The New Orleans Advocate indicate Becnel has reached a plea deal with prosecutors and plans to change her plea on Jan. 7.

Henry was jailed following an altercation with her child's father, while attempting to retrieve the four-month-old from him.

Despite facing relatively minor charges of simple battery, disturbing the peace, and unauthorized entry, Henry's bail was set at $25,000.

A WWL-TV investigation revealed that Henry's bail amount, which had been set by Judge Jeanne Juneau, was much higher than cases with more serious charges, and was far more than Henry's family could afford. 

In addition to this, Henry had been diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening condition called thrombocytopenic purpura, or TTP, which causes clots to form in small blood vessels throughout the body. She required medication for the condition. 

Henry spent ten days in custody at the jail before dying in an isolation cell on April 1, 2014.  

Four correctional officers have been accused of withholding life-saving medication and treatment: Debra Becnel, Timothy Williams, Lisa Vaccarella, and Andre Dominick.

The four were also charged with lying to federal investigators during an investigation into Henry's death. 

Williams pleaded guilty in Sept of 2018, while Vaccarella, Dominick, and Becnel went to trial, pleading not guilty. But after four days of testimony from witnesses, Dominick shot himself in the chest. 

Though he survived, attorneys for Vaccarella and Becnel argued that Dominick's apparent suicide attempt might sway jurors. 

The judge agreed and a mistrial was declared. 

During the initial trial, prosecutors claimed Becnel helped Vaccarella and Williams move Henry to an isolation cell nicknamed 'the birdcage' and ignored her pleas for help as she died. 

Becnel's anticipated 'guilty' plea likely involves her cooperation with prosecutors in return for leniency in a case that could lead to life imprisonment for anyone convicted.


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