Death row suicides more common than you’d think

CLEVELAND, Ohio — It seems hard to fathom, how locked away, under close watch, death row inmates can commit suicides.

Today convicted murderer Billy Slagle, who was scheduled to be executed in three days for killing a Cleveland woman in 1987, was found hanged in his cell this morning.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said Slagle, 44, was found just after 5 a.m. and was pronounced dead about an hour later. The department is conducting a review of the apparent suicide and no further details are available, she said.

Across the country, at least three prisoners have killed themselves this year.

  • In April, San Quentin, Calif., death row inmate Justin Alan Helzer committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell, using a sheet attached to bars, according to CBS station KPIX. Helzer, 41, who was convicted of five murders in 2004, had tried to kill himself three years earlier by jabbing pens and pencils into his eye sockets. A prison official said Helzer had been watched intensively, but showed no signs that he was at risk of another suicide. 
  • In May, death row inmate Kenneth Justice killed himself at Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville, SC, accordingo to The Post-Courier. Justus, 47, who received the death penalty for stabbing another inmate 11 times with a homemade shank, was discovered covered in blood, with a wound in the crease of his elbow and a razor blade in his hand.
Death row suicide isn’t unheard of in Ohio, either.
Three years ago, Lawrence Reynolds Jr. of Cuyahoga Falls overdosed on pills in an attempt to escape execution. Reynolds stockpiled about 30 pills, investigators said.
Reynolds, who strangled his neighbor in 1994, said he did not want to give the state the satisfaction of killing him. He was executed 10 days later.

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