Ariel Castro, who kidnapped and tortured three women over a decade in Cleveland, committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell, according to the coroner.
Franklin County coroner Dr. Jan Gorniak said Wednesday she had conducted a 90-minute autopsy and determined that Castro had committed suicide by hanging. Death was by asphyxiation, she said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
The body is with the coroner's office, and will be turned over to the next of kin, she said. The family has yet to inform authorities about burial plans.
The death of Castro, a former bus driver who was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years for his crimes, prompted scorn from the prosecutor who handled the case that had shocked the nation since the women escaped in May.
"This man couldn't take, for even a month, a small portion of what he had dished out for more than a decade," Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said in a statement emailed to reporters.
Castro, 53, was found hanging in his cell by a bed sheet, state prison spokeswoman Ricky Seyfang told the Times on Wednesday morning. Castro was found about 9:20 p.m. on Tuesday and prison staff performed life-saving efforts, she said.
Castro was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10:52 p.m.
The inmate was being held in protective custody at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient. That means he was in a cell by himself and observed every 30 minutes by a guard. Castro was not under suicide watch, which calls for greater monitoring by authorities.
Exactly what happened Tuesday night will be investigated by state officials who are expected to release more details, Seyfang said.
Castro's lawyer has also called for an investigation.
And so has the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.
"The death of any individual while in state custody must be taken very seriously and fully investigated. As horrifying as Mr. Castro's crimes may be, the state has a responsibility to ensure his safety from himself and others," said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. "Questions remain whether Mr. Castro was properly screened for suicide risk and mental illness. Prisons officials must address these issues, not only to fully account for how Mr. Castro was able to commit suicide, but also to prevent this from occurring again."
Castro's suicide marks the seventh in Ohio prisons this year. Less than a month ago, death row inmate Billy Slagle was found hanged in his cell days before his scheduled execution.
"Unfortunately, mental illness is all too common in our prisons, as our justice system increasingly is used to criminalize those with mental illness rather than provide them with treatment. Those who do not enter prison with severe mental illness are likely to develop issues given the severe prison atmosphere," Link said. "With a prison system that is expanding, rather than contracting, mental health services are strained more than ever. Prisons must be safe in order for them to run effectively. While it is important to investigate Mr. Castro's death and the events surrounding his suicide, prison officials must also take this opportunity to assess the entire system to ensure those most in need are provided treatment."
Castro was sentenced Aug. 1 to life in prison after pleading guilty to 937 counts, including kidnapping and rape, in a deal to avoid the death penalty. At his sentencing, he apologized for his deeds and told the judge: "I'm not a monster. I'm sick."
From 2002 to 2004, Castro separately kidnapped three girls, ranging in age from 14 to 20, and held them in his house on Seymour Avenue. According to presentations in court, the women were repeatedly tortured and raped until one of them escaped in May and police came and freed the others.
Through a spokesperson, the captives, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, declined to comment on the suicide.
By Michael Muskal - Los Angeles Times (MCT)
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