49-year-old man who was wrongly accused of murdering 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes found hanging in Texas jail cell in apparent suicide
Cantrell became a victim of online activism after online activist Shaun King shared his mugshot suggesting that he was the suspect in the death of Barnes
A man who was wrongly accused of killing 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes last year was found dead in his Texas prison cell last week, on July 23. Reports state that 49-year-old Robert Paul Cantrell died in an apparent suicide, and prison guards found him hanging in his cell in Montgomery County Jail at around 4:20 am.
Cantrell was imprisoned for alleged offenses of Robbery and Evading in a Motor Vehicle the same day that Barnes was killed in a drive-by-shooting as her family was heading to a Walmart in Houston on December 30.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office, shortly after the shooting, released a composite sketch based on witness accounts of the murder suspect. The sketch depicted the suspect as a white man with blue eyes.
An online activist, Shaun King, noted the case and offered a $25,000 reward to catch Barnes' killer. King, on January 1, tweeted: "URGENT. ALL HANDS ON DECK. A 40 y/o white man w/ a beard in a red pickup truck pulled up on 7 y/o Jazmine Barnes and her family near a Houston @Walmartand shot and killed her and injured others."
The activist later released a mugshot of Cantrell to his 1.1 million followers on Twitter. The mugshot reportedly looked similar to the composite sketch, according to ABC 13.
"We’ve had 20 people call or email us and say he is a racist, violent (expletive) and always has been. Just tell me everything you know," King wrote. The tweet has since been deleted.
However, authorities later determined that the case was a bogus hate crime, as the investigation eventually led to the arrests of two black men, Eric Black Jr. and Larry D. Woodruffe. Police believe that the men shot into Barnes' car in case of mistaken identity. The two men were charged with capital murder.
The sheriff's office later said that it now believes that the initial composite sketch is of a witness that Jazmine's sisters remembered.
Cantrell's family, despite the arrest of the two suspects in the murder, has continued to receive death threat as his mug shot was shared widely across social media.
Cantrell's niece, Hailey, in one Facebook message also received a rape threat, with a social media user writing: "Someone is going to rape, torture and murder the women and children in your family."
Hailey had told the outlet earlier this year that she wanted everyone to "back off" now that the truth is out.
"I just want everyone to back off. The truth is out. It had nothing to do with us, nothing to do with my uncle at all," Hailey said.
The cause of death is under investigation and is pending autopsy/toxicology reports.