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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.

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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