Man fatally beat cellmate with disability, Texas officials say. Now he’s sentenced

A Texas man has pleaded guilty two years after he was accused of fatally beating his 19-year-old cellmate with “extreme intellectual disabilities,” officials say.

Michael Ownby, 27, was accused of beating to death 19-year-old Fred Harris in Harris County Jail on Oct. 29, 2021, and pleaded guilty to murder charges on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, and was sentenced to 50 years in prison, according to Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.

Harris’ mother, Dallas Garcia, alleges in a 2022 lawsuit filed against Harris County and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office that staffing shortages and overcrowding contributed to her son’s death.

Garcia’s lawsuit alleges that video evidence from the Harris County Jail, which has not been made publicly available, shows Ownby stabbing Fred Harris with a “sharpened utensil” and smashing and kicking his head against the concrete floor.

The lawsuit also says that Harris County, aware of Fred Harris’ disabilities including mental illness, discriminated against him by refusing to provide the reasonable accommodations for which he qualified.

“If they had done their jobs, Ownby wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do what he did — to murder my son,” Garcia told KTRK.

McClatchy News reached out to Harris County Jail and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and is awaiting response.

Fred Harris, weighing just 98 pounds, was placed in the same cell as Ownby, a repeat violent offender weighing 240 pounds, at the time of the incident, according to the lawsuit.

Ownby attacked a detention officer and another inmate prior to his attack on Fred Harris, documents show.

Fred Harris was booked on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after authorities said he “exhibited a knife” to someone. According to Randall Kallinen, the family’s attorney, Fred Harris graduated from Stafford High School without any disciplinary issues and had never been arrested before.

Now, Garcia hopes her lawsuit can shed light on what led up to her son’s final moments.

“I want (the public) to know exactly what went on,” she told KTRK. “I want them to see how evil took place.”

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