Mother of murder suspect suing county

Suspect died in custody in February; Mother claims wrongful death, files $1 million lawsuit

UNION COUNTY — Just a few months after a murder suspect was found dead in his county jail cell, his mother filed a $1 million wrongful death lawsuit against the county.

Diane McKernan, mother of William Parisio, 25, the Cranford man accused of murdering his college girlfriend in 2011 with a dumbbell and then strangling her, was found dead in his county jail cell Feb. 17.

When the Union County Prosecutor’s Office released information about Parisio’s death, they did not say how the former Cranford resident died, or that he had allegedly been found beaten to death.

Since he was arrested in March 2011 and subsequently plead not guilty, there had been little information about the scheduling of a trial. It was known that Parisio was confined to an isolated part of the county jail, but little else was released.

Parisio’s mother, Diane McKernan, filed the $1 million wrongful death lawsuit April 28, listing not only the county but the sheriff, police and correctional departments as contributing to the death of her son, 25, who was found dead Feb. 17 in his cell. She claimed he was beaten to death while in the custody of the county jail.

Although the exact details surrounding his death are unknown because the official report has yet to be released by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, his mother maintained in the lawsuit that Parisio “was beaten by corrections officers or other persons through the negligence of the corrections officers who had custody and control of him.”

The lawsuit also goes into detail about the manner in which Parisio died.
“The injury sustained in this assault was so severe as to cause great pain and suffering and lead to his death at Trinitas Medical Center on Feb. 17, 2014,” the lawsuit indicated.

How this beating death happened remains in question because Parisio, the lawsuit maintained, “was being held in a secured, isolated housing unit where he was or should have been inaccessible to all other inmates.”

McKernan’s lawsuit alleged that the fault of her son’s death was directly linked to “employees of the Union County Sheriff’s Department, Union County Police Department, Union County Department of Correctional Services and the New Jersey State Police who were responsible for the custody of William Parisio.”

The lawsuit also alleges that these county and state agencies “without provocation, assaulted or, used excessive force,” on Parisio, while he was in custody “or negligently failed to take steps to protect him from harm by other inmates. All of which caused severe personal injuries, brain injury” and led to his death.

Calls to the prosecutor’s office regarding the results of the autopsy performed by the Union County Medical Examiner were not returned.
According to the death certificate issued by the Elizabeth Health Department, the cause of Parisio’s death was listed as “pending further studies.” The manner of death was listed as “pending investigation.”

Parisio had been incarcerated in the county jail since March 2011 when he was arrested at the Greaves Place home where he lived with his parents, and charged with first degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, Rutgers student Pamela Schmidt, 22, of Warren.
Schmidt’s body was found in the basement of the home on Sunday March 13. Authorities said he struck Schmidt with a 12-pound dumbbell and then strangled her.

The murder, though, took an unusual twist when Parisio’s mother revealed right after her son was arrested that her son had used “bath salts,” a designer drug that mimics methamphetamines and cocaine use.”

Although this set off a firestorm of concern about the growing use of bath salts, several months after Parisio was arrested toxicology tests revealed no trace of the drug in his system. Nevertheless, McKernan told media outlets her son was bipolar and had a long history of substance abuse, including using bath salts. According to police sources, this designer drug produces a dangerous and violent high and can cause hallucinations, paranoia, rapid heart beat and suicidal thoughts.

After her son was arrested, his mother continued to tell the media Parisio also struggled with mental illness and was certain bath salts either caused or added to his instability.

McKernan, though, did not try to deflect blame and, in fact, told the media that her son “had more opportunities than anyone.” She also said neither she nor any member of the family would be paying for his legal defense and if he did find a way to post the $400,000 bail, he could not come back to live at the Greaves Place home.

This left Parisio without legal representation and dependent on the court system for a public defender. Although it had been three years since Parisio was arrested and charged with the murder of Schmidt, prosecutor sources said the courts were backed up and no date for a trial had been set prior to his death.

Although McKernan indicated after her son was arrested that she would not be paying any of his legal expenses, she did pay for his cremation, which, according to the lawsuit, came to $2,154 for “simple cremation,” and the costs involved with moving his body to the funeral home.