This Aug. 1, 2013 file photo shows Ariel Castro in the courtroom during the sentencing phase in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, file)
by Andrew Wesh-Huggins
AP Legal Affairs Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Ohio’s prison system is reviewing how Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro — perhaps the most notorious figure behind bars in the state — managed to hang himself with a bedsheet while in protective custody.
Castro was a month into his life sentence for holding three women captive in his home for a decade when he committed suicide Tuesday night. Protective custody involves checks every 30 minutes.
Ohio prisons director Gary Mohr ordered two reviews Wednesday, less than a day after Castro was found in his cell and medical responders were unable to revive him.
One review will look at the suicide — normal in such cases — while the other is an examination of Castro’s circumstances and whether he received the proper medical and mental health care leading up to his suicide.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called for an investigation into Castro’s death as well as the question of whether inmates are getting the mental health treatment they need.
“As horrifying as Mr. Castro’s crimes may be, the state has a responsibility to ensure his safety from himself and others,” ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said in a statement.
Castro, 53, had been taken off suicide watch while in county jail and was in protective custody in prison, a status reserved for high-profile convicts who could be in danger from other inmates.
As part of that status, he was in a cell by himself being checked every 30 minutes at an inmate intake prison south of Columbus, said JoEllen Smith, a Rehabilitation and Correction Department spokeswoman.
Prison medical staff performed CPR before Castro was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. State police are also investigating.
Tina Miller, whose cousin Amanda Berry was one of Castro’s victims, said Thursday in a telephone interview that the suicide showed Castro was not as strong a person as the three women he kidnapped, raped and imprisoned.
“Killing yourself, that’s not strength. Surviving it is strength, and that’s what them girls did — they survived it for 11, 10 and 9 years,” said Miller, of Lorain in northeast Ohio. “He took away a lot of their youth, he took away their identity. It’s just terrible.”
Residents in the Cleveland neighborhood where the three women were secretly imprisoned reacted with scorn and grim satisfaction to Castro’s death.
“He took the coward’s way out,” said Elsie Cintron, 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.”
Even the prosecutor joined in.
“This man couldn’t take, for even a month, a small portion of what he had dished out for more than a decade,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty.
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. “I’m not a monster. I’m sick,” he told the judge at sentencing.
Castro’s captives — Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20. They were rescued from Castro’s run-down house May 6 when Berry broke through a screen door.
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.
Miller said she hoped Castro’s death would allow her cousin’s daughter to move on more quickly — but she said she wouldn’t describe herself as glad he was dead.
“Nonetheless, he is still a human being. Nonetheless,” she said. “It is still a life, and I’m a firm believer in God. I wouldn’t dance on his grave. I couldn’t do something like that. I just think it’s a horrific situation, and for him to take his own life, that just says a lot of who he is, or was.”
Castro’s lawyers tried unsuccessfully to have a psychological examination of Castro done in jail before he was turned over to state authorities, his attorney, Jaye Schlachet, said Wednesday.
Michael Casey, director of the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy outside Chicago, said a notorious figure like Castro would have been more apt to be harmed by other inmates, citing the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee cannibal who was slain behind bars in 1994.
He said that given the way Castro managed to hide his crimes for so long, he probably would have been able to conceal any suicidal tendencies from his jailers.
The prison where Castro hanged himself, a so-called reception center for newly arrived inmates, is crowded with nearly twice the 900 prisoners it was meant to hold, according to state figures.
Stress is high and assaults are up at the prison, said Tim Shafer, an official with the guards’ union, who added: “Just like out in the public, suicides happen, and you just can’t prevent every one of them.”
Associated Press writers Kantele Franko and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus and Allen Breed in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.