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Family wants answers after death of inmate

Jerry McGee, 26, was an inmate in the Arkansas Department of Correction's Tucker Unit in Jefferson County. On Sunday, he was pronounced dead at Jefferson Regional Hospital after he stopped breathing Sunday morning.
"I have no idea why I'm burying my son," Anna Watson said through tears.

Jerry McGee, 26, was an inmate in the Arkansas Department of Correction's Tucker Unit in Jefferson County. On Sunday, he was pronounced dead at Jefferson Regional Hospital after he stopped breathing Sunday morning.

"The chaplain called, and I told him it wasn't my baby, because Jerry was healthy," Watson said.

According to the Department of Correction (ADC), protocol was followed. McGee had been seen by the infirmary and was later transported when his condition worsened.

"From all indications this appears to be a natural death," said Shea Wilson, spokesperson for ADC. "We are very sorry for this family's loss, and we know it must be difficult for them to not have answers. But we can't give them those answers of what happened, because we don't know."

"You know, 26-year-old men don't just start having breathing problems and die," Watson said, shaking her head. "It just doesn't happen."

Watson had hoped an autopsy would offer more answers.

"The guy who did the autopsy said he couldn't find anything wrong with him," Watson said. "There was no medical explanation. He didn't have an aneurism, blood clots, ulcer, bruises. Nothing."

Watson says McGee's cellmates claim he complained of being sick for several days before his death, but was denied medical treatment. But ADC says that simply isn't the case.

"There's no indication of prolonged illness to alert us he was very sick and needed immediate medical care," Wilson said. "He was incarcerated on drug charges, we have no way of knowing if that may have compounded or deteriorated his medical health or impacted him in some way. His medical records show that he, like most other inmates, visited the infirmary throughout his time here for minor aches and pains, but there's nothing to indicate a major medical condition."

McGee was just weeks away from being paroled, and in a January visit, Watson saw him excited about a day that will never come.

"I have to bury him and I can't tell his babies why they can't see their daddy," she said. "He was ready to be out and to take care of his babies. I just need answers."

At this point, a toxicology report, which could take 90 or more days to process, may be their last chance for answers.

Watson had expressed concern that ADC wouldn't release McGee's prison medical records to her. ADC said they are prohibited by federal law from releasing that information.
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