Jefferson County authorities are investigating how a county jail inmate being held on murder charges managed to kill herself. It happened early Sunday at the facility in Hillsboro.
5 On Your Side asked jail officials about policies and procedures to keep this sort of thing from happening.
Laurel Leeker, 48, was awaiting trial for allegedly murdering her boyfriend, Steven Pettit, at his home on Aug. 17. She'd been in the jail since her arrest Aug. 22. Sunday morning, jailers found Leeker dead in her cell.
“Apparently there was some sort of clothing, undergarment, utilized and apparently hung herself from the higher bunk,” said Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department Captain Gary Higginbotham. “And also there's information received that apparently a towel was hung over the bunk to block the view of corrections officers.”
Officials say Leeker was in a cell by herself. She went to bed around 12:15 Sunday morning and was found roughly five hours later.
So, why wasn't anyone checking on Leeker through the course of the night?
“In a case like this there wasn't any inclination that we knew of that she be placed on suicide watch,” said Higginbotham.
Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Marshak told 5 On Your Side corrections officers do not check individual cells during the night, but rather watch video feeds from a control center.
And what about the towel blocking officers' view? Marshak says that's common for inmates to block out light while they're sleeping and not a red flag for jailers.
Higginbotham said there was no way to predict Leeker would kill herself.
“We just can't get in their mind. We wish we could. But sometimes we can't and tragic events like this happen.”
Now jail officials will take a close look at whether policies need to change.
“We always review any incident to determine if there's anything we can do better,” said Higginbotham.
Had Leeker been on suicide watch, Higginbotham said there would've been checks on her every 15 minutes. He feels the jail's current policies were followed in this case.