Man accused of killing cellmate with special needs charged with murder

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Thursday, November 11, 2021
Murder charge filed against man in Harris Co. jail death
Michael Ownby, 25, is accused of killing Fred Harris on Oct. 31 inside the jail.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The man accused of beating a 19-year-old with special needs to death while they were cellmates at the Harris County Jail has been charged with murder.

According to investigators, 25-year-old Michael Ownby and Fred Harris were inside a holding cell when Ownby attacked Harris late last month.

Court records say Ownby smashed Harris' head on the concrete floor, kicked him and stabbed him with a sharpened eating utensil.

The medical examiner says Harris died of blunt force trauma to the head and neck.

Sources told ABC13 that Ownby attacked Harris unprovoked.

Records show Ownby to be 6 feet 2 inches tall and 240 pounds. Meanwhile, Harris was just 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 98 pounds.

"This is heartbreaking. This is heartbreaking that he died alone, scared and had no one," said Amy Mendez, whose son was friends with Harris, referring to the teen succumbing to his injuries in the hospital.

Mendez said she took in Harris back in March.

"He was just a 13-year-old kid trapped in a 19-year-old body," Mendez spoke of Harris' special needs. She added he always carried a toy karaoke microphone with him.

Harris, who had no criminal history, was jailed on Oct. 11 for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Mendez said he left her home in May and had been living on the street.

Ownby had been in jail since Oct. 28 for a charge of assault on a public servant. He also had a warrant for a misdemeanor for allegedly harassing his own mother.

Harris' appointed defense attorney, Kirk Oncken, said he had just met with Harris and was "addressing his needs." He expressed outrage about the circumstances.

"I'm surprised that somebody, who was in custody, was in possession of something like that," Oncken said about the sharpened eating utensil Ownby had. "It's pretty shocking, pretty scary that something like that could happen in the county jail."

Ownby's charges were upgraded from aggravated assault - serious bodily injury.

His bond was set at $500,000. He's expected in court Thursday.

ORIGINAL STORY: Teen inmate with special needs killed by cell mate in Harris County jail, family says

Authorities said the attack was unprovoked and now, the teen's loved ones want those involved held accountable.