CARACAS, Venezuela – Former boxing champion Edwin Valero, who gained fame for knocking out all his 27 opponents and having a tattoo of Hugo Chavez on his chest, was found dead in his jail cell Monday and police said he hanged himself after being arrested in his wife's murder.
The former lightweight champion used his own clothes to hang himself from a bar in his cell early Monday, Venezuelan Federal Police Chief Wilmer Flores told reporters. Valero's lawyer, Milda Mora, confirmed that Valero had committed suicide saying he used the sweat pants he was wearing.
Flores said Valero was found by another inmate, who alerted authorities in the police lockup in north-central Carabobo state. Valero still showed signs of life when they took him down, but they were unable to save him and he died about 1:30 a.m., Flores said.
The 28-year-old was detained Sunday on suspicion of stabbing his wife to death. Prosecutors said Sunday night that they had planned to charge Valero in the killing.
Valero was detained after police found the body of his 24-year-old wife in a hotel in Valencia. The boxer left the hotel room and allegedly told security he had killed Jennifer Carolina Viera, Flores said.
The fighter was a household name in Venezuela and had a huge image of President Chavez tattooed on his chest along with the country's yellow, blue and red flag.
His all-action style and 27-0 record -- all by knockouts -- earned him a reputation as a tough, explosive crowd-pleaser. Venezuelans called him "Inca," alluding to an Indian warrior, while elsewhere he was called "Dinamita," or dynamite.
The death is the third high-profile reported suicide of a former boxing champion in the past year.
Hall of Famer Alexis Arguello, the mayor of Managua, Nicaragua, was found dead at his home last July of a gunshot wound to the chest. A few weeks later, Arturo Gatti was found strangled in the Brazilian resort town of Porto de Galinhas. His wife was arrested as the prime suspect in the death, but authorities later ruled that he committed suicide.
The former WBA super featherweight and WBC lightweight champion had been in trouble with the law before.
Last month, Valero was charged with harassing his wife and threatening medical personnel who treated her at a hospital in the western city of Merida. Police arrested Valero following an argument with a doctor and nurse at the hospital, where his wife was being treated for a series of injuries, including a punctured lung and broken ribs.
The Attorney General's Office said in a statement that Valero was detained March 25 on suspicion of assaulting his wife, but his wife told a police officer her injuries were due to a fall.
When the boxer arrived moments later, he forbade Viera from speaking to the police officer, and spoke threateningly to the officer, prosecutors said in a statement.
A prosecutor had asked a court to keep Valero in jail but that the judge instead allowed him to remain free under certain conditions, the Attorney General's Office said.
Mora, his lawyer, told The Associated Press the fighter had been assigned police escorts to prevent any problems with his wife, but that he evaded them.
Jose Castillo, Valero's manager, criticized authorities for failing to act more forcefully to prevent the killing.
"I asked the authorities not to let him out. He needed a lot of help. He was very bad in the head," Castillo told reporters. "But they let him out. They were very permissive with him and because of that, we're now in the middle of this tragedy."
Mora, however, said Valero "didn't accept the help the government gave him."
"He was the only one responsible," Mora said, adding that the government had arranged for Valero to attend a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in Cuba. He had missed a flight to the island earlier this month and was scheduled to fly there soon, she said.
The fighter's 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter are staying with their grandmother, she said.
Before his death, photographs showed Valero being led in handcuffs through the jail, then shielding his face by pulling down his cap.
While police suspected Valero was battering his wife, "the only person who could report it was her, and she told her family that he never hit her," Mora said. "She wanted help for him."
Valero also "adored his wife," Mora said. "We were very close to him and we knew there could be this sort of outcome because when he became conscious of what he really had done, he wasn't going to be able to bear not being close to Carolina."
In the ring, Valero's fists carried him from poverty to fame. He won his first 18 fights by first-round knockout, setting a record that has since been eclipsed by Tyrone Brunson. Valero last fought in February, defeating Antonio DeMarco in Monterrey, Mexico.
He was replaced as WBC lightweight champion in February after he expressed a desire to campaign in a higher weight division, WBC president Jose Sulaiman said.
Valero was involved in a motorcycle accident in 2001 that caused a cerebral hemorrhage, and because most jurisdictions refuse to license a fighter who has sustained a brain injury, he was unable to fight in the United States. The boxer wound up fighting mainly in Japan and Latin America, where he won his first title in 2006.
Valero also was charged with drunken driving in Texas, which is the primary reason he was denied a U.S. visa.
He accused the U.S. government of discrimination, saying his application wasn't approved because of his sympathy for Chavez, a fierce critic of the U.S. government.
He appeared at times as a special guest at televised events hosted by Chavez and was lionized by Chavez supporters as a national hero, while some critics accused him of avoiding punishment for past problems due to close links to the government.