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The Cleveland man serving a life sentence for holding three women captive in his home for a decade hanged himself in his prison cell with a bedsheet, officials said Wednesday in another shocking twist in the case that transfixed and appalled the city.
Ariel Castro, 53, was found hanging Tuesday night at the state prison in Orient, said JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the corrections system. Prison medical staff performed CPR before Castro was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“He took the coward’s way out,” said Elsie Cintron, a neighbor who lived up the street from the former school bus driver. “We’re sad to hear that he’s dead, but at the same time, we’re happy he’s gone, and now we know he can’t ask for an appeal or try for one if he’s acting like he’s crazy.”
Through a spokeswoman, his three victims declined to comment.
Castro was sentenced Aug. 1 to life in prison plus 1,000 years after pleading guilty to 937 counts, including kidnapping and rape, in a deal to avoid the death penalty. At his sentencing, he told the judge: “I’m not a monster. I’m sick.”
A scornful Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said: “This man couldn’t take, for even a month, a small portion of what he had dished out for more than a decade.”
Castro had been in a cell by himself in protective custody because of his notoriety, meaning he was checked every 30 minutes, but was not on a suicide watch, which entails constant supervision, Smith said. She said Castro used a bedsheet.
An autopsy showed the death was suicide by hanging, said Dr. Jan Gorniak, Franklin County coroner.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio asked the prison system to conduct a full investigation.
Castro’s captives – Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight – disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.
They were rescued from Castro’s run-down house in a tough Cleveland neighborhood on May 6 when Berry broke out a screen door and yelled to neighbors.
Elation over the women’s rescue turned to shock as details emerged about their captivity. Castro fathered a child with Berry while she was being held. The girl was 6 when she was freed.
Investigators also disclosed that the women were bound with chains, repeatedly raped and deprived of food and bathroom facilities. Knight told authorities that Castro impregnated her repeatedly and made her miscarry by starving her and punching her in the belly. Berry was forced to give birth in a plastic kiddie pool.
On Castro’s old street Wednesday, freshly planted landscaping was in bloom on the site where his house stood before it was demolished by the city a month ago. Satellite TV trucks returned to record the scene.
Castro’s suicide “does give a little bit of closure to the families and people that got affected by what he did,” resident Jessica Burchett said, “but at the same time he deserved to be in there for his life because of what he did to those girls.”
No one answered the door at the home of Castro’s mother and brother.
His lawyers tried unsuccessfully to have a psychological examination of Castro done in jail before he was turned over to state authorities following his guilty plea, his attorney, Jaye Schlachet, said Wednesday. Schlachet would not comment further.
Members of the Guardian Angels volunteer patrol group stationed themselves in their red berets outside DeJesus’ home and said her family didn’t want to be bothered as the community absorbed the news.
“I ask the community to continue to respect the privacy of the survivors so that they can move forward with their lives,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said in a statement.
The prison where Castro hanged himself, a so-called reception center for newly arrived inmates, is filled with nearly twice the 900 prisoners it was meant to hold, according to state data.
Stress is high and assaults are up at the prison, but Tim Shafer, an official with the guards’ union, said: “Just like out in the public, suicides happen, and you just can’t prevent every one of them.”
Castro was watched closely in the Cuyahoga County Jail in the several weeks between his arrest and his guilty plea, with logs noting his activity every 10 minutes. He was taken off the suicide watch in June after authorities concluded he was not a suicide risk.
In an interview last month, Castro’s lawyers said that their client clearly fit the profile of someone with a sociopathic disorder and that they hoped researchers would study him for clues that could be used to stop other predators.
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