Cobb inmate pleads guilty over false Ebola claim

A Cobb County inmate’s false claim that he had traveled to a country at the center of the Ebola crisis has earned him a real jail sentence.

Harry Randall Withers Jr., 35, of Suffolk, Va., was arrested Oct. 3 on a DUI charge. After developing a fever and flu-like symptoms, he told officials that his recent travels had taken him to Liberia, a country at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Days later, he tested negative for the virus, and officials learned that he hadn’t traveled abroad since 2005. That led to his indictment on three felony counts of making false statements.

Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds announced Thursday that Withers pleaded guilty to those three felony counts, as well as misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence and failure to maintain a lane.

Withers’ false claims, officials said, led to a shutdown of some jail operations, while Ebola precautions had to be taken by the ambulance company that transported him as well as WellStar Kennestone Hospital, which received him.

“We will not tolerate anyone manipulating the system like this and preying on our worst fears,” Deputy Chief ADA John Melvin, who prosecuted the case, said in a news release Thursday. “When you put the county and law enforcement through such a useless exercise as this, we will find out the truth.”

Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert E. Flournoy III sentenced Withers to 10 years, with one year to serve, though that sentence will be suspended upon Withers’ successful completion of a six-month inpatient drug rehabilitation program in Virginia. He was also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to the Cobb Sheriff’s Office.

Withers has remained in custody since his arrest.

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