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State Prison System to Investigate After Ariel Castro Hangs Self in Cell

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 8:12 PM

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Ariel Castro (Brian Bull / ideastream)

Just months after Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight escaped from years of captivity in a house in Cleveland, their captor is dead. Ariel Castro was found hanging in his prison cell last night. The death has been ruled a suicide. ideastream's Nick Castele reports.

News of Ariel Castro’s death brought international attention back to Seymour Avenue in Cleveland. Cuyahoga County demolished Castro’s house last month, but news trucks still lined the street Wednesday. And neighbors were trying to figure out just what to make of this latest development.

Jovita Marti, who says she knew Ariel Castro, was sitting on her porch with her mother across the street from his former address.

“He tortured those girls for 10, 11 years, and he didn’t even – was in jail for four months,” Marti said. “He didn’t have the guts to stay, like, a year and suffer a little bit.”

Castro held Berry, DeJesus and Knight under lock and key on this street for about 10 years. In May, they escaped with the help of neighbors. Castro pleaded guilty this summer to hundreds of charges, including rape, kidnapping and aggravated murder for assaulting one of the women until she miscarried.

Around 9:20 Tuesday night, prison staff in central Ohio found him hanging in his cell from a bedsheet. About an hour later, he was pronounced dead at a Columbus hospital. The Franklin County Coroner ruled the death a suicide.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman JoEllen Smith says Castro was alone in his cell, and that guards were instructed to check in on him frequently.

“Rounds are required to be conducted every 30 minutes at staggered intervals,” Smith told WOSU. “The entire incident is under investigation.”

The department and the State Highway Patrol have launched separate investigations of the death, with the department’s review set to be finished at the end of September.

This is the second hanging in a month in an Ohio prison, and the ACLU here is calling for an investigation of prison mental health services. Ohio ACLU spokesman Mike Brickner spoke with the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau.

“As horrifying as Mr. Castro’s crimes may be, the state has a responsibility to ensure his safety, both from himself and from others,” Brickner said.

One of Castro’s defense attorneys, Craig Weintraub, voiced similar sentiments speaking with the Today Show and the Northeast Ohio Media Group, saying he had asked for a forensic evaluation for his client.

The plea deal prosecutors and defense agreed upon took the death penalty off the table in exchange for life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years. It was an attempt, lawyers said, to spare Castro’s victims further agony and keep him behind bars.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty responded forcefully in a written statement to the news of Castro’s death, writing, “The man couldn’t take, for even a month, a small portion of what he had dished out for more than a decade.”

Back on Seymour Avenue, Eli Amos walked by with his wife to pay tribute, he says, to the victims. He says as parents, they’d become more protective of their daughter, knowing that women were missing in their community. And he says he was disappointed that Castro died without serving his sentence.

“I think they were doing whatever they could do to make sure he got sent away,” Amos said. “The death penalty came regardless.”

He says no matter how hard Castro’s defense had tried to avoid death for their client, in the end, death and Castro found each other.

With reporting by ideastream’s Brian Bull, WOSU’s Steve Brown and Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler.

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