By JON MILTIMORE / News Herald Writer
March 23, 2009 - 9:36PM
PANAMA CITY — A pregnant Bay County Jail inmate was found dead in her cell Sunday night in what jail officials said is an apparent suicide.
The body of Maureen Hutchinson, 26, of Parker, was discovered at 8:57 p.m., according to the Bay County Sheriff's Office.
Investigators believe Hutchinson killed herself by making a noose out of a bed sheet that she used to strangle herself by tying the other end to her cell door and leaning against the noose, Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen said Monday.
The death remains under investigation by the Sheriff's Office.
Bay County Jail Warden Rick Anglin said Hutchinson had been removed from suicide watch by her physician March 9 after displaying improved behavior. She received a mental health evaluation Friday by a therapist and was observed to be in "good spirits."
Hutchinson had been assigned to Florida State Hospital, a mental institution in Chattahoochee, after she waived a competency hearing Thursday on charges of unarmed robbery by sudden snatching. She was being held at the Bay County Jail until an opening could be found at the hospital, law enforcement officials said.
Anglin said in the last hour of her life, Hutchinson had been visited by two jail officers and a nurse, who delivered her medication.
"She carried on conversations with all of them, and she gave no indication she was going to do something like this," Anglin said.
Anglin said suicide watch, which involves removing all items from an inmate, is meant to be short-term. He said it is jail policy to reward inmates with privileges such as commissary and interaction with peers as they show signs of improvement.
Suicide attempts are not uncommon occurrences at the jail but usually are prevented by staff, Anglin said.
"We have 20 to 25 percent of the inmate population on psychiatric medication," Anglin said.
He said it was a tragedy this one was not prevented.
"We would like to express our sympathy to the family," Anglin said. "It has really affected the staff here, and we can only imagine how the family must feel."
Hutchinson's husband, James Bearden, said late Monday his wife was five months pregnant at the time of her death and already a mother of two. He said he had not yet been permitted to see her but has been informed the child did not survive. He said his wife suffered from bipolar disorder.
"It has been a hell of a fight for three years," Bearden said. "These people aren't criminal; they're mentally ill."
Bearden said his wife had been doing well, but she feared going back to the Chattahoochee hospital, where she has had a difficult time before.
"She was doing fine last week; we got three beautiful letters from her," Bearden said. "She wasn't able to get the help she needed."