Autopsy shows Tammy Benge Cassels savagely beaten

Defendant Michael Joseph Whisnant could face death penalty
Sep. 11, 2013 @ 08:33 AM

Michael Joseph Whisnant may be sentenced to death if convicted of beating his girlfriend to death.

The district attorney's office waited to receive the full autopsy report on the girlfriend, Tammy Benge Cassels, 38, before deciding whether to pursue the death penalty.

The autopsy report shows a medical examiner documented evidence of a savage beating resulting in "blunt force injuries" to the head, neck, chest, abdomen, back, shoulder, arms and legs. In all, the examinated found nearly 50 fresh cuts, scrapes and bruises all over Cassels' body, including skull fractures, as well as excess fluid and bleeding in her brain.

Whisnant, 37, was charged with murder on April 5 after Cassells' body was found wrapped in a comforter in the home Whisnant shared with his mother, Patty Triplett, at 810 Wild Cherry St. He is being held the Caldwell County jail until his next court hearing, scheduled for Jan. 13.

Whisnant's father, Richard Whisnant, said he doesn't believe Michael Whisnant killed Cassels, and he has said that his son has no memory of a fight with her that night.

"There were five other people in that house when she died," he said. "My son was asleep. There's no way he did this."

Richard Whisnant also cites the fact that his son returned home to Lenoir after being mistakenly released from jail in Avery County on Sept. 3. Caldwell County officials did not know he was free until three days later.

"If he did it, don't you think he would have ran when he was out of jail? He didn't. He stayed with me the whole time," Richard Whisnant said.

Rachael Shehan, who is a cousin to Michael Whisnant on her father's side and a cousin to Cassels on her mother's side, said she has mixed feelings about the decision to seek the death penalty.

"His kids are my niece and nephew," she said. "This is something they shouldn't have to deal with. I worry all the time how my family's handling all this.

"It's not up to me what happens with Michael. I'm going to leave it in God's hands."