, Salem, MA

Local News

December 30, 2010

Mother demands answers in son's courthouse suicide

SALEM — As officials continue to investigate how a Peabody man managed to hang himself in a Salem District Court holding cell Tuesday afternoon, the man's mother is struggling to understand how it could have happened.

"This should never have transpired," a distraught Jeannette Sawyer said yesterday afternoon. "My son should still be alive."

Her son, Harley L. Sawyer, 40, was found hanging by a piece of his pants inside a holding cell shortly after 2 p.m. and was pronounced dead at Salem Hospital at 2:36 p.m., officials have said.

His death came shortly after he'd been told that he was wanted on a warrant in Comal County, Texas, where he'd been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was facing eight years.

Sawyer's mother said her son had been trying, without success, to have his probation transferred from Texas to Massachusetts. Eventually, unable to get a job and living on the street there, he gave up and simply returned to Massachusetts without permission, where he had a job waiting for him working as a finish carpenter for his brother's business, she said.

"I called his probation officer in Texas and thanked him for dragging his feet," Jeannette Sawyer said.

It's not clear whether Harley Sawyer knew that Texas officials had issued a warrant. If he did, he didn't say anything to his lawyer or his mother about it. He did tell his mother, "If I have to go back there, I'll never make it," Jeannette Sawyer said.

Sawyer's lawyer, John Morris, said yesterday that he advised his client that they might have a shot at beating the case he was facing Tuesday, a 2006 larceny charge brought by Danvers police, because of the length of time that had passed, but Morris said Sawyer was adamant. "He told me he wanted to do a plea," said Morris, who said his client feared losing his apartment and job if he was held in custody.

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