Mississippi moms question state as they bury slain inmates

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This undated photo released by the Mississippi Department of Corrections shows Denorris Howell in Mississippi. Howell was found dead in his cell on Jan. 3, 2020. Three mothers including Howell's across Mississippi are planning funerals, wondering how and why sons convicted on those charges were killed in state prison. All three were slain by fellow inmates at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman last week, along with two inmates killed in prisons elsewhere in the state, part of an outbreak of violence that's calling national attention to problems that have long existed in Mississippi's overstretched prison system. (Mississippi Department of Corrections via AP)

HATTIESBURG, MS – Manslaughter isn't supposed to be a death sentence. Nor is burglary. Nor is armed robbery, selling cocaine or stealing a vehicle.

But that is what the mothers of three inmates say was ultimately given to their sons, all of whom were killed in prison violence last week. As they plan their children's funerals, they are demanding answers. They want to know what happened, and why.

All three prisoners were slain by fellow inmates at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman last week. Two other inmates were killed in prisons elsewhere in the state. The outbreak of violence has brought national attention to problems that have long plagued Mississippi's overstretched prison system.

The mothers were told by their sons' fellow inmates that their deaths were gruesome.

“He was beat. He was stabbed. His chest, stomach. ... He has, well, he had, a lot of bruises and things on him," says Jeffrie Holliman of Hattiesburg, mother of 32-year-old Roosevelt Holliman, who died Jan. 2.

Rotonia Gates, the mother of Walter “Keon” Gates, says she's been told not to look at the body of her 25-year-old son after he was repeatedly stabbed on Dec. 31. But she says inmates with contraband cellphones sent her graphic pictures and descriptions of what happened.

“All the information I've gotten has come from inside," says Gates, a Southaven resident.

Denorris Howell's body was so covered in blood that Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton initially announced he had been stabbed on Friday, but later revised that to say he'd suffered a different kind of neck wound.