George County

A juror made a Facebook comment long before the trial of a jail nurse. Now she’s being sued.

Ashley Parnell was one of the jurors who served on the Carmen Sue Brannan manslaughter trial in January 2018.
Ashley Parnell was one of the jurors who served on the Carmen Sue Brannan manslaughter trial in January 2018. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

A George County juror took to Facebook to say a former jail nurse was guilty of murder in the death of an insulin-dependent jail detainee months before the case made it to trial, a lawsuit says.

Former jail nurse Carmon Brannan is suing Ashley Parnell for defamation over the June 21, 2017, Facebook post Parnell allegedly made under the name, Ashley Ricky Havard.

Parnell made the comments under a news story on Facebook in June about Brannan’s decision to withdraw her initial guilty plea in the Sept. 24, 2014, death of jail detainee, William Joel Dixon, 28.

In the Facebook post, Parnell wrote: “If she would have done her job, Joel would still be alive today!! So yes, she is guilty of murder. He was her responsibility as long as he was in jail and was responsible for her checking his sugar and administering his medication and bc (because) she ... (failed) to do her job he died. So hell yeah, she’s GUILTY. It doesn’t take a genius to see this!!!”

Brannan later went to trial in January, but the manslaughter trial ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked in a 11-1 vote to convict Brannan.

‘A clearly biased individual’

Brannan is suing for unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. The lawsuit says Parnell’s statements has caused Brannan to suffer from emotional distress, headaches, anxiety and sleepless nights and has caused further damage to her personal and professional reputation.

“Ms. Parnell made malicious comments about Carmon Brannan in a public forum, which were false, and made without any actual knowledge of the facts surrounding the tragic death of Joel Dixon,” Brannan’s attorney Mary Lee Holmes said. “It is also very disturbing that Ms. Parnell, a clearly biased individual who had already made up her mind, was then able to sit in judgment of Ms. Brannan as a member of the jury at her criminal trial.”

Defense attorneys are also waiting on the trial transcript to determine if Parnell provided inaccurate information to attorneys during jury selection. Generally, Holmes recalled jurors being asked whether they had already formed an opinion in the case and if they had any connection to Brannan and her family or Dixon and his family before they were selected.

Parnell, reached Tuesday, declined to comment due to the pending litigation.

She was picked to serve as a juror in January.

After the trial ended in mistrial, Parnell expressed her upset in a post on a public Facebook page called “True Justice for Joel.”

In the post, Parnell wrote: “I can promise you 11 of us felt she was GUILTY WITH OUT A REASONABLE DOUBT !!!! I was part of the jury and I’m so sorry to the family I can’t even express how sick I am over this. The other 10 expressed how sorry they were also and we tried so hard to convince the other juror.”

She and two other jurors later sat down with the Sun Herald to express their upset over the jury’s inability to reach a verdict. Parnell cried when she talked about how she felt like she failed the Dixon family.

“We let a lady go that should really be in jail and it’s all because we had one juror that would not follow the laws,” Parnell told the Sun Herald. “She just kept saying she had made her mind up and there was nothing we could to do to change it.”

The criminal case

Brannan was the lone registered nurse at the jail when she is accused of causing Dixon’s death by withholding the insulin he needed to live.

Over the course of his jail stay, prosecutors said, Brannan repeatedly chalked Dixon’s deteriorating health condition up to drug withdrawals because he had admitted smoking up to 2 grams of meth a day for the six months leading up to his arrest in Lucedale on Sept. 17, 2014. Testimony of jailers and others said he had been unable to eat for days before his death.

On the morning of Dixon’s death, Brannan claims he was conscious and “sitting up” when she checked on him. Surveillance video shows Brannan’s check amounted to her peaking through the window of the jail cell for less than two seconds.

Defense attorneys argued Dixon suffered from other health problems, including pancreatitis, took painkillers for a previous back injury, and didn’t go to his doctor for diabetes for a year.

At the time of Dixon’s death, however, prosecutors said Dixon had no drugs in his system and the cause of death was due to complications from diabetes.

Dixon was in jail on two counts of child endangerment and one count of possession of a controlled substance, DUI other, driving with an expired tag, and driving without insurance.

Brannan’s criminal trial has been reset for July 23, 2018, in Warren County. A judge granted a request from the defense for a change of venue.

Local judges recused themselves from presiding over the criminal case, and now, the civil trial.

Brannan’s sister is Chancery Clerk Cammie Byrd.

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45

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