Harford County Sex Offender Killed in State Prison

Police believe Robert Joseph Tunnell's cellmate at Jessup Correctional Institution allegedly killed him.

A Harford County man serving a six-year sentence for a sex offense was found dead in his cell at the Jessup Correctional Institution Wednesday, authorities said. Police believe his cellmate allegedly killed him.

Robert Joseph Tunnell, 21, formerly of Edgewood and Baltimore, was found dead in his cell with signs of trauma to his body and a string around his neck, police said.

While there is a known suspect in the case, charges are pending and police have not released the suspect's name.

Around 2 a.m. Wednesday, a correctional officer making routine rounds arrived at Tunnell's cell and Tunnell's cellmate allegedly said something to the officer that prompted an emergency response from staff, according to a release from Maryland State Police. It was unclear Thursday what the nature of those statements was.

Tunnell wasn't responding when staff reached him and medical personnel were called. Medics pronounced Tunnell dead at the scene, the news release states.

Tunnell's body showed signs of trauma and investigators found what looked like a shoe string around his neck, according to state police.

The victim's body was taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore for an autopsy to determine the official cause of death.

"It is a murder and there is a suspect who has been identified," state police spokesman Greg Shipley said Thursday.

Charges are pending against Tunnell's cellmate. In the mean time, the suspect remains in custody of the Maryland Division of Correction, according to state police.

The two men were being held in a transitional housing area usually designated for inmates brought in from other institutions or being moved for some reason.

"Tunnell was apparently serving a sentence at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset," Shipley said, "I don't know why he was brought to JCI."

According to court records, Tunnell had a violation of probation hearing in the day before he was killed.

He was serving a six-year sentence after entering an Alford Plea on an attempted second-degree sex offense charge on March 12. An Alford Plea means the defendent acknowledges the state has enough evidence to convict, but maintains his innocence. It qualifies as a finding of guilt.

The underlying charges involved inappropriate contact with a boy, age 14, when Tunnell was 19 years old, according to court documents.

harfordman June 28, 2012 at 07:31 PM
cml June 28, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Diane June 29, 2012 at 10:58 AM
I agree--KARMA-- I believe in Capital punishment for these kind of offenders and if the law does'nt do it--then let another inmate do it !!
MaR June 29, 2012 at 11:38 AM
Awful..regardless of what he did!
MVPHKR June 29, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Tunnell was not sentenced to death. This is not karma, except for primitive-minded people who don't believe in the law themselves.
MVPHKR June 29, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Agreed. The state has an obligation to protect those who are in custody. But the lowbrows who think Tunnell deserved to die probably don't realize that.
Nick June 29, 2012 at 04:01 PM
1. It is impossible to protect everyone all the time especially in prison. He was killed by his cell mate at night. I suppose we should give everyone in jail a private room then? 2. In my opinion (and its just that, an opinion) anyone who perpetuates sexual violence against a child should be put to death. Cal it lowbrow if you want, but I couldn't care less that my tax dollars don't have to pay for another sex offender to get three hots and a cot.
Take Responsibility! June 29, 2012 at 04:01 PM
I can't believe some of you are pro child molester. I also can't believe the patch censored my last comment, after seeing what else is posted on this page. SMH
Kirsten Dize June 29, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Take Responsibility, meant to reject another not yours. Sorry about that!
Take Responsibility! June 29, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Thanks for the explanation Kirsten!
cml June 29, 2012 at 05:19 PM
I wish all child molesters met this fate.
Extremely Disgruntled June 29, 2012 at 10:53 PM
I quote the article: "He was serving a six-year sentence after entering an Alford Plea on an attempted second-degree sex offense charge on March 12. An Alford Plea means the defendent acknowledges the state has enough evidence to convict, but maintains his innocence. It qualifies as a finding of guilt. The underlying charges involved inappropriate contact with a boy, age 14, when Tunnell was 19 years old, according to court documents." He maintained his innocence, and it was only an "attempted" crime. There was only a 5 year difference in age. Most all states statutory is less than 4 years different, so do not mistake me here, I am not condoning his actions, but I can see this as a "by months out of range" statutory crime. There are more than enough he-said, she-said, (in this case both "he's,") cases. Not knowing the full context by what we see here, which is really not a lot, we can't have an opinion that is based in fact. Only thing we all can have here is conjecture. On the other hand, I can never see condoning someone's murder. No matter who the victim is. That blatantly defeats our Constitution's purpose, and heralds in the need for a "1984" style of government. Be careful what you wish for. In other words, I do not advocate for ANY type of crime.
Tj June 29, 2012 at 11:01 PM
I was Joe (Robert Joseph)'s closest friend. His big brother, if you'd asked him. Joe didn't deserve to die. Joe was only a kid himself. He was still in high school when the offense occurred and was, then and up until the time of his brutal murder, no more than an adolescent mentally, emotionally, and developmentally. Take it from the one who knew him best. He was no child molester. There was a five year age difference. Joe was a good guy at heart, He had given his life to God and was simply going to serve his time, register as a sex offender, and try to carve out some semblance of a peaceful life within the stigma that society has given to an umbrella term for a wide range of sexually based offenses. He did not deserve to be classified with rapists and pedophiles. And He didn't deserve to die. And his poor mother doesn't deserve any of this. A sweet, innocent woman, who has already had to deal with what her son did, and him being locked up (knowing he cannot fend for himself socially with adults, due to his mental problems). Now he's gone forever. This kind soul, my little brother. So if any of you have something to say about Karma, go tell the lady who spent the day yesterday picking out a casket and making funeral arrangement for her 21 year old boy. See what she has to say about Karma.
Christine June 29, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Karma's a mutha
Thomas Beveridge June 29, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Being killed by his cell mate is a way less harsh death then he would've faced had it been my son that he molested. I would've included a few weeks of torture first. Maybe if our penal system would kill more sex offenders or didn't offer them protective custody during their stay then these sickos would think twice before raping someone else's child.
BlueStarMom June 30, 2012 at 12:06 AM
I am a victim of incense and later rape. I cannot judge this man I wasn't there and don't know the details. If he did it don't defend them they do not change just kill them. If he didn't I'm sorry he suffered.
IndispensableDestiny June 30, 2012 at 11:33 AM
This is a terrible sentence: "Police believe his cellmate allegedly killed him." It could be "The police say his cellmate allegedly killed him" or "The police believe his cellmate killed him."
MVPHKR June 30, 2012 at 04:02 PM
You're entitled to your opinion that child molesters should be put to death. (In a state where murderers don't get executed, that truly is a fantasy.) But there is a big difference between the state executing someone lawfully, and a convict murdering someone who was not sentenced to die. That you don't get that distinction is what marks you and your ilk as "lowbrow".
MVPHKR June 30, 2012 at 04:03 PM
I haven't seen any pro-child molester comments on here...perhaps you could explain what you mean? I have seen anti-legal system comments on here, with primitive lowbrows endorsing murder.
Angry July 02, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Anyone who has said that Joe Tunnell deserved to die needs to get a grip. He maintained his inncocence for an attempted crime. Not only was he sweet, a man of God, and scared as hell to be in jail in the first place, a man took his life in the middle of the night after beating him. The fact that you all said "he deserved to die" is disgusting. Would you have taken his life if you were given the chance? A 21 year old mentally ill boy, who was always nice and happy before this all happened, and then makes a mistake deserves death? He did NOT deserve death, and those of you people who think he did are horrible people. I may not have known Joe well, but I know enough to tell you that he didn't deserve this. Nobody deserves how he died or these ridiculous comments. Let him rest in peace.
Tj July 02, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Thank you, angry. I wish more of these people knew Joe, because that's really the only way they'd understand. He was so joyous and full of life and needed help and guidance, no more and no less.
Moved to Vermont July 04, 2012 at 06:24 AM
They really should remove this comment section from the patch. Everytime something happens people of the same "ilk" as the Westboro Baptist Church start their chants of "Hang'em", "String'em up" when those affected are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Hence I moved back to Vermont after living in Maryland for 17 years. Closed mindeness and ignorance run amok in the state of MD.
Bel Air Native August 23, 2012 at 01:38 PM
This is a very sad situation. Anyone who's not a moron who read the entire article not only could see that the boys were both teenagers, but that he maintained his innocence by taking the Alford Plea. This is a case of homophobic parents charging someone with a crime simply because he was over the age of 18 at the time that their son developed a relationship with him. Now a mother is without her son, who she loved, regardless of his sexual orientation. This was not karma. This was a tragedy. I hope those people are consumed with guilt for their actions that ultimately made a young man lose his life.


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