In a desperate search for answers, one family has published pictures online of the body of an inmate who died after he was reportedly found unresponsive in a cell in an Illinois prison earlier this month.
The extremely graphic photos, which appear on the family’s GoFundMe page and a family friend’s viral social media post, show the swollen face and body of Chicago resident Michael Jefferson, who was being held at the Menard Correctional Center on a parole violation, according to NBC Chicago.
“Somebody needs to tell me something. My son was 27 and healthy,” Janel Charles, Jefferson’s mother, told Chicago station WGN News. Her crowd-funding page says she is raising money to conduct an independent autopsy on her son.
“Whatever went on in there, he did not deserve to die that way. He was a human being,” Charles told the news station. “He had people [who] loved him. I loved my son. His brothers loved him. He died like an animal.”
The images of Jefferson’s body were taken by a family friend, who posted them online with Charles’ permission. It shows an open wound on Jefferson’s throat and back, as well as some swelling. They can be viewed at the reader’s discretion here and here.
“When I got to the funeral home here in Chicago I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Charles wrote on the GoFundMe page. “My son’s face is swollen beyond recognition.”
She speculated that her son was murdered and cited several cuts and swelling on his body as proof. She also maintained that her son was healthy, aside from allegedly being diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was younger.
“He still has blood in his nose, cuts in his mouth, a knot on the side of his head,” Charles wrote of her son’s body on July 12.
Jefferson was in the maximum security prison on gun charges and awaiting trial, CBS 2 Chicago reported.
The Menard Correctional Center called Charles on July 11 to alert her that Jefferson had been found unresponsive in his cell and taken to the Chester Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Charles explained on the GoFundMe site. HuffPost obtained a news release from the county coroner’s office that confirmed Charles’ account of the timeline surrounding Jefferson’s death.
According to the news release, the Randolph County coroner conducted a preliminary autopsy at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in the city of Belleville on July 12 and found no signs of trauma. The Belleville hospital is located nearly 50 miles from the Chester Memorial Hospital, where Jefferson was pronounced dead.
The coroner’s office is still waiting for a toxicology report and histology findings. The coroner confirmed that Jefferson’s case is being investigated by the Illinois Department of Corrections, the coroner’s office and the Illinois State Police.
The Department of Corrections told HuffPost in a statement that Jefferson’s wounds and swelling may be a result of the autopsy and the body’s “decomposition.” The department did not respond to questions about what condition Jefferson was in before he was found unresponsive in his cell or which specific details were released to Jefferson’s family.
“It is the department’s understanding that the wounds seen in the pictures of Mr. Jefferson’s body are consistent with those incurred during an autopsy and the swelling a result of the body’s rapid decomposition,” the department said.
Charles wants a second independent autopsy to be performed in Chicago. She is sharing the photos of her son’s body “because I want the world to know what happened to my son and maybe we can stop this from happening to another family,” she wrote on GoFundMe.
Jefferson’s family is working with an attorney to obtain more details surrounding the 27-year-old’s death and has asked the Department of Corrections to release any related surveillance footage, according to CBS 2 Chicago.
“I didn’t understand how you didn’t see any trauma,” Charles told NBC Chicago. “Is that how they come out of Menard looking when they die?”
This story was updated to include statements from the Department of Corrections and the Randolph County Coroner.