ATLANTA – In an abrupt end to a disturbing saga, a 20-year-old maintenance man apparently killed himself in a Georgia prison two days after pleading guilty to molesting and killing a little girl.
Ryan Brunn's death in his cell was an apparent suicide, the state Department of Corrections said, but it was still under investigation Friday. Corrections spokeswoman Kristen Stancil wouldn't comment on how he died or whether prison officials had taken precautionary measures to monitor him, such as putting him on suicide watch.
Brunn was found unresponsive at 4:15 p.m. Thursday at the state prison in Jackson and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:37 p.m., Stancil said.
An autopsy likely would be conducted Friday at the state Bureau of Investigation's medical examiner's office, GBI spokesman John Bankhead said. He said GBI agents are investigating the death.
Brunn died after another sudden turn in the case, when he unexpectedly entered a guilty plea during a hearing Tuesday. He was swiftly sentenced to life in prison without parole.
At that hearing, he took the witness stand and explained in chilling detail how he lured 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera to a vacant apartment in an Atlanta suburb, molested her, stabbed her to death and then stuffed her body in a trash compactor. The Dec. 2 slaying happened at the complex in Canton where she lived and he had worked for about a month.
Brunn's guilty plea was designed to spare him the possibility of being executed and to save Rivera's family the emotional trauma of an extended trial. Vernon Keenan, chief of the GBI, also said the guilty plea gave his agents a unique opportunity to delve into the mind of a "cold and calculated killer."
After entering the plea, Brunn briefly apologized to the girl's family members, who sobbed quietly in the front row of the courtroom.
The girl's mother, Jocelyn Rivera, said in a statement at the hearing she hoped Brunn suffered for his crime. After learning of his death on Thursday, she expressed relief.
"This is the kind of justice that I was expecting for him for all the damage that he made to my little daughter," Jocelyn Rivera said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Now, I can say that I feel satisfied."
Brunn's defense attorney, David Cannon, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Cherokee County District Attorney Garry Moss also did not immediately return a call.
The case prompted the resignation of Canton police Chief Jeff Lance, after a scathing report found he took a "laid back" approach to the search for Rivera. The 17-page review revealed Lance's department violated several of its own policies during the search for Rivera, city manager Scott Wood said Thursday.
The inquiry said there was little doubt Rivera was already dead by the time Canton police received the missing child report. But it said if another such report were handled in the same manner, police "may indeed miss an opportunity to save a victim's life."
The review found that the officer who responded to the initial call treated the case as a routine one that "would be solved in the same manner as dozens of other such cases that the agency had handled in 2011."
Local officers arriving to search for Rivera failed to activate their dash-board cameras to record the scene, failed to immediately determine if any sexual predators lived or worked nearby, and didn't report her case to a national registry until almost a day after she went missing, the report said.
The report said Lance, who didn't respond to requests for comment, didn't arrive at the apartment complex until around 10:15 a.m. the next morning — about 17 hours after the child was last seen. When he did arrive, it said he was talking to several other officers about the "Georgia game" and eventually turned the TV to a football game.
"Personnel present at the scene frequently characterized the chief's level of concern as 'laid back,'" the report said.
Wood, the city manager, said the review should answer questions that were raised about the policies and procedures of the department, which has 48 sworn officers.
"Although sadly the family must still deal with the heartache and loss of this young child, from a legal perspective the matter has now been fully concluded," he said in a statement.