COLUMBUS — As more details emerged Tuesday about the suicide of a death row inmate last month, the state prison system announced a review of inmate suicides going back two years.
The review will start with the suicides of high-profile inmates Ariel Castro, the Cleveland kidnapper and rapist who had just begun a life sentence when he hanged himself Sept. 3, and Billy Slagle, who killed himself Aug. 4, three days before his scheduled execution.
Two criminal justice experts hired by the state will also review all inmate suicides over the past two years in Ohio, examine the prison agency’s policies for preventing suicides and recommend changes as needed.
Slagle, 44, hanged himself with a nylon belt up to 20 minutes before he was found, according to a coroner’s report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. The cause of death was asphyxiation by strangulation, according to Ross County Coroner John Gabis.
Slagle died not knowing that his lawyers planned to appeal based on last-minute information received from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty, who said his office had just learned that Slagle was never informed of a plea deal he’d been offered before his trial.
In a rare move, McGinty had announced weeks earlier he opposed Slagle’s execution because he didn’t believe his 1988 death sentence was justified. He cited Slagle’s age at the time — he was 18, the minimum age to face execution in Ohio — and his long history of drug and alcohol addiction.
Slagle was sentenced to die for killing neighbor Mari Anne Pope in a 1987 Cleveland burglary.
A review of Slagle’s suicide by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction that was released Monday said guards noticed Slagle about 5:06 a.m. the day he died and cut him down two minutes later.
The coroner’s report says Slagle’s suicide happened between 4:45 a.m. and 5:03 a.m. that day.
The state review of the suicide alleges one and possibly two prison guards falsified an electronic log documenting checks on Slagle.
The log indicates checks every 30 minutes started at 10 p.m. Aug. 3 and went through the night. But video evidence contradicts that, indicating checks didn’t start until 11:20 p.m. and were done hourly after 2 a.m., according to the prisons agency report.
Two guards are on paid administrative leave while the prisons agency investigates. The department declined to comment on the coroner’s report.
The two consultants will conduct the state review have years of experience investigating jails and prisons. Fred Cohen is a retired professor at the State University of New York at Albany and an expert on prisons conditions. For several years he helped monitor Ohio’s youth prison system as part of a federal court order. He has an existing contract with the Ohio prison system that pays him $150 an hour.
Lindsay Hayes directs the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives and is a nationally recognized expert in preventing suicides in juvenile facilities, jails and prisons. His contract will pay him $13,125.