COLUMBUS, Ohio — A condemned inmate used an item he was permitted to have to apparently hang himself days before his execution – a rare, but not unprecedented, death row suicide.
An autopsy on Monday found that Billy Slagle's death at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution was consistent with suicide by hanging. A final cause of death won't be released until toxicology tests and the prison's investigation are completed, said Mike Ratliff, chief investigator for the Ross County coroner.
Prison officials haven't said how Slagle, 44, hanged himself early Sunday morning. Prison spokeswoman JoEllen Smith would only say that Slagle used something he was allowed to have in his cell.
Slagle was scheduled to be executed Wednesday for fatally stabbing a neighbor in 1987 during a Cleveland burglary. His lawyers were working to halt the execution and still hoping for a new trial.
There were at least three other death row suicides nationwide this year despite intensive security over the condemned.
At the Chillicothe prison, two correction officers were staffed on death row during the overnight shift and they are required to check on the 140 inmates there at least every 20 minutes.
Under regular prison policy, Slagle was scheduled to be placed under pre-execution watch Sunday morning, which includes around the clock monitoring by a prison staff member.
It was the first death row suicide ever in Ohio. Three years ago, Lawrence Reynolds Jr. was hospitalized after overdosing on pills nine days before his execution, but he was executed as scheduled in March 2010.
This year, death row inmates have committed suicide in California, South Carolina and Arizona. Two died from hanging while another cut himself with a razor blade.
According to data released two weeks ago by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, three U.S. death row inmates committed suicide in 2011.
Studies have found that suicide is a leading cause of death in jails.
A study funded by the U.S. Justice Department that was released in 2010 said that jail suicides have dropped dramatically over the last 20 years, but the numbers are still well above the general population.
Slagle was sentenced for the stabbing of Mari Anne Pope, who was killed while two young children she was watching were in the house.
The prosecutor in Cleveland recently asked the Ohio Parole Board to spare Slagle, saying that jurors today, with the option of life without parole, would be unlikely to sentence Slagle to death. The parole board and Gov. John Kasich both rejected mercy for Slagle.
Seewer reported from Toledo. Judith Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.