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Autopsy indicates Ohio inmate Billy Slagle hanged self days before execution

COLUMBUS, Ohio An autopsy shows that a death row inmate in Ohio apparently hanged himselfthree days before his execution.

Billy Slagle
This undated file photo provided by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction shows Billy Slagle. AP Photo/Ohio Department of Rehabilitation, File

A coroner in southern Ohio says preliminary autopsy results are consistent with suicide by hanging, but more tests are needed before a final cause of death is established.

Ohio Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith says 44-year-old Billy Slagle was found early Sunday at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution south of Columbus. He was declared dead about an hour later.

Slagle was sentenced to die for fatally stabbing a neighbor in 1987 during a Cleveland burglary. CBS affiliate WOIO reported that Slagle, then 18, broke into Mari Anne Pope's home and stabbed her 17 times with a pair of scissors. Two children she was watching had heard the attack. His motive, the court found, was scoring money for alcohol.

Slagle was set to be executed on Wednesday but his lawyers were working to halt the execution. The prosecutor in Cleveland said 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.

By committing suicide, neighbors told WOIO Slagle may have deprived the victim's family and friends from seeing him put to death.

"I think the family would have liked to see it. It was his choice, I guess," one neighbor said.

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.

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