• Austin Steybe
  • Jerry Carlton Keene Jr.

Accused murderer attacked in jail cell dies

20-year-old was taken off of life support Oct. 4 after testing revealed little brain function

Authorities said an inmate attacked by his cellmate in the early morning hours of Oct. 3 died the next day at an Orange Park hospital.

Putnam County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Joe Wells said detectives were told 20-year-old Austin Steybe’s family made the decision to take him off life support after testing revealed little brain function.

Steybe and his cellmate, Jerry Carlton Keene Jr., 44, were both awaiting trials for first-degree murder.

Wells said corrections officers were alerted to unusual behavior in the cell the men shared and found Steybe unconscious.

Steybe was taken by ambulance to Putnam Community Medical Center in critical condition, Wells said. Steybe was later taken to Orange Park.

Keene remains in an isolation cell away from other inmates, Wells said.

“The sheriff’s office has forwarded the case to the state attorney’s office and a grand jury review is expected,” Wells said.

Steybe was arrested and charged Aug. 2 with the murder of his 79-year-old grandmother, Annie Ruth Flowers.

Relatives became concerned Aug. 1 after not hearing from Flowers and asked for law enforcement to check on her at the home she shared with Steybe in San Mateo.

Deputies found evidence of a struggle and dried blood, which prompted a search of the home and surrounding area. 

During the early morning hours Aug. 2, Flowers’ body was found in a wooded area not far from the home.

A grand jury indicted Steybe on first-degree murder charges later that month.

Keene was arrested and charged March 3 with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription.

On March 4, Marion County deputies discovered the body of Thomas Lombardo, a man reported missing since January, in the Ocala National Forest.

Keene was listed as a person of interest in the case, and in May, a grand jury indicted Keene in Lombardo’s murder.

Wells said Steybe’s death is the first known fatal inmate-involved altercation at the Putnam County Jail in more than 30 years.

In the last 12 years, I do not recall an incident severe enough to send an unconscious person to the hospital,” Wells said.

Palatka Daily News

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