Crime

Coast mom says her son was set on fire in prison. She wants answers.

Tony M. Howard
Tony M. Howard Sun Herald Archive / 2008

Tony Howard of Moss Point is serving time in prison on a manslaughter conviction — but that doesn’t give anyone the right to throw gasoline on him and set him on fire, his mother said.

An inmate serving a life prison sentence severely burned Howard on Aug. 3 at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville, said his mother, Linda Howard.

“I’m very disturbed,” she said. “I’m very hurt that my child suffers. Just imagine getting burned from grits or a curling iron. But gas thrown on you and being set on fire? How did this happen?”

SMCI is the prison that twice-convicted killer Michael Floyd Wilson, known as “Pretty Boy Floyd,” escaped on July 5. Wilson, who was in prison for the murders of two men in Harrison County, was caught two days later in Jackson County.

Linda Howard said someone left a message on her phone Aug. 5, saying her 32-year-old son had been set on fire with gas by another inmate, identified by the caller as Albert Wilson, on Aug. 3. Howard said a medical officer confirmed Howard had been burned, but she has been unable to speak to the warden or her son.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections confirmed an encounter occurred at SMCI between Howard and Wilson on Aug. 3.

Wilson, 53, was placed on lock-down Aug. 3, the MDOC website shows. Wilson is serving life for an assault on a corrections officer and 15 years each on two armed robbery convictions, all from convictions in Coahoma County.

Wilson was in the Coahoma County jail on May 12, 2000, when he and another inmate assaulted and robbed a jailer. They took the jail keys and about $150 and escaped, documents show. Wilson was caught the same night. A jury convicted him on July 30, 2001.

Howard’s condition is not available. He was moved to the Z Unit, the designation for an inmate in a hospital, on Aug. 7.

That’s the day Donna Howard said a chaplain called and asked her to visit her son at a Jackson burn center.

“That’s like telling the mother of an inmate he’s about to die,” she said. “Then I get a call telling me the visit is canceled. I don’t know anything about how he’s doing.”

His location was still listed as the Z Unit as of Aug. 13.

MDOC is releasing no details.

“Because this is an ongoing investigation with information subject to change, the department’s practice is to not release specifics,” MDOC Communications Director Grace Fisher said.

“Upon completion of the investigation, if the department believes charges are merited, the case will be referred to a prosecutor’s office.”

‘South Mississippi’s Most Wanted’

Howard was included in the Sun Herald’s “South Mississippi’s Most Wanted” series in 2008, when he was sought in a fatal shooting at the Touch of Class Club in Moss Point. He was 22 at the time.

Federal marshals found him in Tampa, Fla., where they said he jumped from a second-floor apartment window to avoid arrest. He was caught after a short chase. Someone who had read about him on the internet recognized him and called in an anonymous tip, Sun Herald archives show.

Howard was convicted of manslaughter in Jackson County on May 4, 2009. A jury found him guilty of fatally shooting Lorenzo Nettles at the Touch of Class on Feb. 16, 2008. Nettles was trying to intervene in an argument between Howard and another man when Howard’s gun went off, documents show.

Howard has 7 1/2 years to finish on a 20-year sentence. His tentative release date is March 3, 2026, prison records show.

‘They need to shut it down’

More than a week after being notified of her son’s injuries, Linda Wilson said she has still heard nothing about his condition or details on how and why he got burned.

She wants to know how the alleged assailant obtained gasoline and how prison staff allowed it to happen.

“He didn’t just go to the store and get some gasoline,” Howard said.

“I’ve heard they are short-staffed. If they can’t protect inmates from other inmates, they need to shut it down.”

SMCI is in Greene County, where Leakesville is the county seat.

Russell Turner, editor and publisher of the Greene County Herald, has asked county officials and the public to demand that state lawmakers address security issues and a staff shortage at SCMI.

Turner is one of two people who unknowingly gave Michael “Pretty Boy Floyd” Wilson a ride after he scaled a prison fence at SCMI. An elderly woman also gave him a ride, a sheriff said. The escape remains under investigation. Michael Wilson, 47, was moved to the Mississippi State Prison at Parchman.

MDOC in October 2017 closed some units at SCMI and sent 400 prisoners to other facilities. MDOC can’t hire enough guards at the current salaries, MDOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall said.

In a statement issued after Michael Wilson’s capture, Hall said, “While understaffing has not been directly attributed to the July 5 escape, it could be a contributing factor that ultimately affects public safety.”

Hall said MDOC has made lawmakers aware of understaffing and low wages for correctional staff.

“Until the wages, the necessary security positions are restored, and working conditions of the correctional officers improve, the state correctional system will continue to be at a disadvantage in carrying out its public safety mission.”

Mississippi has three state prisons, 15 county-run regional jails and three private prisons.

RobinFitzgerald, 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

in 1988, the Sun Herald did a story on eight-year-old Johnny Carter who was burned over 80% of his body. They documented his painful physical therapy and skin grafts. Years later as an adult, his life has taken a turn for the worse.

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