Accused killer Michael Joseph Whisnant set free, for a while

Sep. 08, 2013 @ 08:42 AM

A Lenoir man charged with murder walked free for a few hours Friday because of a "clerical error," officials said Saturday.

Michael Joseph Whisnant, 37, charged with first-degree murder in the death of Tammy Benge Cassels, was released Friday afternoon by the Avery County Jail. It was not clear Saturday whether jail staff thought he should be released because his sentence for a probation violation in Caldwell County had run out, and whether he was being held in Avery as part of a routine arrangement the Caldwell jail has with a number of jails around the region when Caldwell has more inmates than it can hold.

Avery Sheriff Kevin Frye and Caldwell Sheriff Alan Jones did not return phone calls Saturday. Lenoir Police Chief Scott Brown said Whisnant's release was due to a clerical error, but he said he did not have details.

"Whisnant was released from the Avery County Jail when he was still under no bond on our murder charge," Brown said Saturday by text message. "The Caldwell County Sheriff's Office and Lenoir police were informed of the release around 4 p.m. (Friday) afternoon. ... His release, and the reasons for it, are still under investigation."

Whisnant was arrested without incident at his father's home on Conway Drive in Lenoir about 11 p.m. Friday, Brown said.

A cousin of Cassels who was called by Lenoir police about 9:40 p.m. Friday about Whisnant's release said she was told that officers from Caldwell County were supposed to pick up Whisnant in Avery County about 3:30 p.m.

Whisnant was arrested on April 5, and the body of Cassels, 38, was found wrapped in a comforter in the home Whisnant shared with his mother, Patty Triplett, at 810 Wild Cherry St. Whisnant, Cassels' boyfriend, was indicted April 15 on a charge of felony murder. At the time, he was under house arrest for violating a condition of his release from jail while awaiting trial on a charge of assault inflicting serious injury after Cassels' jaw was broken with a hammer on Aug. 21, 2011.