CEDAR HILL • Daniel Barrett has been in a coma since he was beaten by a fellow inmate in the Jefferson County Jail a week before Christmas.
He cannot move or speak. He stares into space from his bed in a Cedar Hill nursing home. He seldom blinks. His jaw is slack.
He relies on a feeding tube for nourishment and a tracheal tube to breathe. "He'll have one good day, then two bad days," said his mother, Darlene Christian.
Lifting his hands qualifies as a good day.
He is 21 years old and has almost no hope of recovery, she said.
Barrett suffered massive head injuries, including skull fractures and damage to his brain stem, when a fight erupted during a meal at the jail in Hillsboro.
The prisoners had been eating inside a pod, which holds 12 to 16 inmates. The fight broke up as soon as jail guards entered the pod and found Barrett unconscious on the floor, Sheriff Oliver "Glenn" Boyer said on the day of the fight.
Christian said other inmates told her the prisoner who beat Barrett wanted his food.
Barrett had been serving a four-year sentence in state prison in connection with theft and weapon convictions in 2008 in St. Louis County. Christian said her son had been caught shoplifting at Gravois Bluffs.
He was transferred from state prison to the Hillsboro jail to await trial on Jefferson County charges of drug possession and assaulting a law enforcement officer. Barrett had been there a few weeks when he was beaten, Christian said.
Jefferson County dismissed the charges Jan. 3 because Barrett is medically unable to stand trial. The state granted him medical parole 10 days later.
Medical parole can be awarded to inmates who are terminally ill and expected to die within six months, who are old and need long-term nursing care, and to those whose lives would be endangered or shortened by confinement, said Chris Cline, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections.
If Barrett's condition improves, his parole could be revoked.
Meanwhile, his mother filed a lawsuit last month against Boyer and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department on behalf of Barrett's son, who is almost 2. Christian is seeking more than $1 million.
The suit does not give details about the attack.
It alleges that the Sheriff's Department was negligent and careless when it put Barrett in a pod with too many prisoners to be reasonably controlled and did not keep adequate watch over the inmates.
Christian, of High Ridge, said she believes the jail is overcrowded and that the suit could bring change to the jail.
"If I can't help my son, I want to help somebody else," she said.
Boyer said Friday he could not comment on pending litigation. He said the jail can hold more than 300 inmates and that it housed about 240 on Friday. Information about the jail population on the day Barrett was injured was unavailable.
But inmate numbers have swelled. The average daily inmate population last year was 239, an increase of 45 a day from 2009 — a 23 percent jump, according to a sheriff's office report.
The inmate who beat Barrett has not been charged. County Prosecutor Forrest Wegge would not say whether he intends to file charges.
Barrett, the youngest of 14 children, attended Northwest High School but did not graduate, Christian said. He worked factory jobs, and he was a heroin addict, his mother said.
Barrett was moved from Barnes-Jewish Hospital to the Cedar Hill Manor nursing home about three weeks ago.
Christian, 64, visits him every day. His room is decorated with pictures and glittery get-well posters.
His 5-foot-9-inch frame has shrunk to 119 pounds, a drop of 51 pounds since the beating.
"Lift your hand for Mom. Lift it, Daniel. You can do it," Christian said Friday as she stood next to his bed, gripping his tattoo-covered arm.
Eventually, he did. His mother smiled.
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