CLEVELAND – A man condemned to death for fatally stabbing a neighbor during a Cleveland burglary was found hanged in his cell Sunday just days before his Wednesday execution.
Billy Slagle, 44, was found at about 5 a.m. at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution south of Columbus and was declared dead within the hour, prison spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.
"He was in his cell alone. No other inmates suspected to be involved," Smith said in an email. "It does appear to be a suicide."
Under regular prison policy, he was scheduled to be placed under pre-execution watch Sunday morning but "was not yet placed under constant watch," Smith said.
Slagle's defense team was shocked and saddened at the news and had no clue he might commit suicide, attorney Vicki Werneke said.
"We were still litigating in court and had hoped that the execution would have been stopped. There was oral argument scheduled for Monday afternoon," she told The Associated Press in an email.
An autopsy will be conducted Monday, according to Mike Ratliff, chief investigator for the Ross County coroner. He said the case was under investigation and no initial findings could be provided.
Slagle was sentenced in 1988 to die for the stabbing of Mari Anne Pope, who was killed while two young children she was watching were in the house.
In a rare move, the prosecutor in Cleveland asked the Ohio Parole Board to spare Slagle. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said 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.
McGinty declined comment through a spokesman.
Last week, Slagle's attorney argued that a jury never got the chance to hear the full details of his troubled childhood.
The attorneys, arguing for a new trial and to delay his execution, said that information met requirements for asking for a new trial, which normally must happen within four months of a conviction.
Slagle was "unavoidably prevented" from filing his request because his original attorneys didn't develop and present the evidence, the filing said.
McGinty and Slagle's attorneys had cited his age — at 18, he was barely old enough for execution in Ohio — and his history of alcohol and drug addiction.