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Anatomy of a suicide

Kevin Chill Heard | 9/11/2013, 12:13 p.m.
To some, Castro’s demise was a fitting end to a horrible crime that captured international attention, as three young women, ...

On Tuesday Sept, 3, at 9:20 p.m., convicted kidnapper Ariel Castro was found hanging from a bed sheet in an 8’ by 12’ prison cell, 20 miles south of Columbus at the Orient Correctional Reception Center.

The prison’s medical staff performed CPR on Castro before he was taken to OSU’s Wexner Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 10:52 p.m. from an apparent suicide. The Franklin County coroner concluded that Castro’s body showed marks consistent with hanging by bed sheet.

According to officials, a final autopsy report will be completed in six to eight weeks.

To some, Castro’s demise was a fitting end to a horrible crime that captured international attention, as three young women, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus, were kidnapped, beaten and sexually assaulted over a ten-year period on Cleveland’s Westside.

To others, skepticism mounts as to how Castro, who was not on suicide watch but in protective custody, could have managed to hang himself, unassisted, in this manner.

Castro’s death comes nearly one month after another high-profile convicted murderer Billy Slagle was found hanging in his Chillicothe cell on Aug. 4, three days prior to the date he was supposed to be executed.

In 1987, Slagle murdered his Cleveland neighbor Mari Anne Pope in her home while in the midst of a burglary. He stabbed Pope with a pair of scissors 17 times while two children she was babysitting watched in horror.

Slagle, who was on death row, hung himself just hours before he was to be put on suicide watch.

Public opinion says that the suicides of Slagle and Castro ring of suspicion that, at best, suggests a dereliction of duty may have taken place and, at worst, “jailhouse justice” may have prevailed in one or both of these suicides.

In the case of Slagle’s death, the two corrections officers on duty the night of his hanging were placed on administrative leave. In Castro’s death, a review team was appointed by Ohio Prisons Director Gary Mohr, on Sept. 4, to look into Castro’s suicide.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio is calling for the state to conduct a full investigation into Ariel Castro's suicide.

“The death of any individual while in state custody must be taken very seriously and fully investigated,” ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said in a statement. “As horrifying as Mr. Castro's crimes may be, the state has a responsibility to ensure his safety from himself and others.”

According to the ACLU of Ohio, Castro’s suicide is the seventh committed this year by an Ohio inmate.

A study done in 1988 (Hayes and Rowen) confirms that suicide is the leading cause of death in American jails and the third leading cause of deaths in American prisons (Bureau of Justice Statistics 1998). Most suicides are by hanging. Methods of inmate hangings include tying themselves to clothes hooks, shower knobs, cell doors, door knobs, sinks, ventilation grates, windows and smoke detectors.

The article most often used by inmates to hang themselves is a bed sheet, as was the case in the death of Ariel Castro.