Local News

Mother of 17-year-old Durham inmate considers lawsuit after alleged suicide

Posted March 23
Updated March 25

— A 17-year-old girl in the Durham County Detention Center on murder charges in a 2016 shooting killed herself early Thursday morning, according to the sheriff's office.

Detectives with the Durham sheriff's office were dispatched to the detention facility around 3:30 a.m. when detainee Uniece Glenae Fennell was found unresponsive in her cell. Paramedics who responded pronounced her dead at the scene.

Preliminary evidence collected and statements given to detectives indicated that Fennell's cause of death was a suicide, according to the sheriff's office.

Julia Graves, Fennell's mother said she is looking into a lawsuit because she does not believe her daughter committed suicide. She said she spoke to her the same day she died and she was happy and laughing.

"I know my daughter. I just can't see her doing that," Graves said.

She also said she was concerned that her daughter was initially 16 years old in an adult facility.

Fennell was put in the facility on July 26, 2016 after she was arrested and charged with the murder of a 19-year-old Durham man. She was also indicted on Aug. 4, 2016 for discharging a weapon into an occupied residence and discharging a firearm with a pattern of street gang activity.

Posts on Fennell's Facebook page showed that she maintained her innocence, saying she had nothing to do with the murder. In a post from February, she said jail was hard, she wanted to go home and she didn't deserve to be locked up.

An attorney for Fennell on Wednesday had asked the Durham County Sheriff's Office to investigate the jail after he said detention officers were verbally abusive to her and other inmates. He is now calling for an independent investigation into her death.

Friends remember Fennel as being animated and happy even in jail. Her friend, who wanted to be identified only as Benjamin, said he is still in disbelief at the news of Fennell's death.

"Nobody seen it coming, not even her mom. Her mom spoke to her hours before it happened and she was in good spirits. She felt like she was ready to come home. She know she didn't do it," he said.

Fennell's mother is now coping with the loss of two children, as Fennell's twin brother Demoraea Fennell was murdered in November.

"Her mom's not doing good," Benjamin said.

An attorney for Fennell said she was not allowed to attend funeral services for her brother.

The Durham County Sheriff's Office said there were 15 attempted suicides in 2015 and 12 attempted suicides in 2016, but no successful attempts in either year. Data on the number of jail suicides and attempts were not immediately available for 2017.

Officials from the Durham County Sheriff's Office said Fennell was not under suicide observation prior to her death.

Benjamin hopes Fennell will be remembered as innocent and loving.

"Nobody believes that she did it, honestly," he said.

The Durham County Sheriff's Office will notify the State Bureau of Investigation in compliance with standard protocol. The State Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy.


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  • Teddy Fowler Mar 26, 2017
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    She knows her go daughter? Who happens to be a violent murderer.... maybe the mom should be sued to recover the cost of being in jail...

  • Brenda Lawrence Mar 26, 2017
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    But 27 suicide attempts in two years?! I don't know the national average, but this seems high to me. Worth investigating...and wait until it's your child or relative. You'll be singing a different song, I bet.

  • Norman Lewis Mar 26, 2017
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    The murder was most likely drug or gang related. Many suicidal people when they have "made the decision" are calm and happy since they see the end of their troubles. Unless she was known to be suicidal with precautions in place, no one but the violent felon is responsible for her actions. Innocent people do not usually take actions like this, they know they will be exonerated when the facts come out, she knew better. To the media, when you picture her, don't show a little girl picture, show her dressed in her usual gang clothes. Maybe her fellow gang members will stand up and admit to putting her up to the murder, yeah, sure they will. How about we sue the family for allowing this minor to participate in a gang?

  • Cynthia M Mar 26, 2017
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    View quoted thread

    I agree 100%!!

  • Nancy Oberman Mar 26, 2017
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    Why am I not surprised...we ALL knew this was coming. Was not yesterday's story laying the groundwork. Greedy attorney, greedy parent, on the grave of a dead child

  • Janet Ghumri Mar 25, 2017
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    It's sad to see anyone take their own life, especially one so young.
    The reality is that Durham held her for the last 8/9 months on very serious allegations. But, Prior to that, her mom/family had her for at least 16 years. During all those formative years she should have been taught right from wrong, not "what can I get away with?" The prevalent culture that overrides home training does not work. Kids are being taught to deny their wrong doings at a very early age. No one wants to own-up to anything, and the outcome bogs down the legal system while incarceration probability is outrageous. It's an issue that starts at home. Teachers, caregivers and neighborhoods can't raise your kids. Be a active parent, even if it makes your kids mad (especially when it makes them mad!) Know your kids friends, and go meet their teachers, if they know that you're checking up on them, they will be more open with you. It all starts at home

  • Brenda Lawrence Mar 25, 2017
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    This was a 17-yr-old child! There is something wrong in a jail with so many suicide attempts. So many heartless, judgmental people on this thread. Let's hope your child, grandchild never ends up in a gang or jail. Now her mother has lost two children; how sad.

  • Maureen Mercer Mar 25, 2017
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    The Durham man's family should sue the girl's family for wrongful death and get any money the girl's mother may collect.

  • Karen Orndorff Mar 25, 2017
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    How about suing yourself for not raising your child to know better?

  • Reggie Berryman Mar 25, 2017
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    Zero parental responsibility, but now she sees $$$$$signs!