A Mysterious Prison Death: What Happened To Michael Jefferson?

Photo by Family Handout
Police say he died of natural causes, but the mother of Michael Jefferson says the pictures tell a different, and brutal, story.

A Chicago mother is pressing law enforcement for answers after seeing her son, Michael Jefferson, with bruises on his body and gashes on his head after dying in police custody.

Jefferson, who Janelle Charles says suffered from bipolar disorder, was awaiting trial on gun charges in an Illinois maximum security prison.

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On July 11, a warden from the Menard Correctional Center called Charles to inform her that her son was found unresponsive in his prison cell and transported to a hospital, where he passed away.

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While the county coroner, Carlos Barbour, asserts that a preliminary autopsy shows that there were no signs of trauma, Jefferson found her son unrecognizable after transporting his body from the facility to a Chicago funeral home. 

“My son has a hole in his neck as big as a fist, skin missing off his back. His genital area looked I don’t know what happened if they burned him, stomped him, kicked him. He has a knot on the side of his head and his face is huge,” she shared with a Chicago CBS news affiliate.

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She pressed Barbour for answers. “Are you telling me when an inmate dies at Menard, that’s how they all come out looking? That’s not unusual to you? It’s normal then?”

The images are shocking.

According to a statement from the Illinois Department of Corrections, it is launching an investigation into Jefferson’s death. In the statement, they corroborate the coroner’s report, asserting that the “wounds seen in the pictures of Mr. Jefferson’s body are consistent with those incurred during an autopsy and the swelling a result of the body’s rapid decomposition.”

However, Charles believes her son was murdered. She plans to have an independent autopsy performed in Chicago in conjunction with the state’s investigation.  

The mother launched an online fundraising campaign, which has raised more than its $8,000 goal, to cover funeral expenses.

While demanding justice for her son, Charles asserts on the fundraising site “I want the world to know what happened to my son and maybe we can stop this from happening to another family.”

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