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Cleveland kidnapper takes ‘coward’s way out’

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Tony Dejak / AP

Ariel Castro, center, listens in the courtroom during the sentencing phase Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Defense attorney’s Craig Weintraub, left, and Jaye Schlachet sit beside Castro. Three months after an Ohio woman kicked out part of a door to end nearly a decade of captivity, Castro, a onetime school bus driver faces sentencing for kidnapping three women and subjecting them to years of sexual and physical abuse.

Updated Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013 | 1:32 p.m.

Cleveland Kidnapper Sentencing

Ariel Castro listens in the courtroom during the sentencing phase Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Launch slideshow »

CLEVELAND — Residents in the tough Cleveland neighborhood where three women were secretly imprisoned for a decade reacted with scorn and grim satisfaction Wednesday after Ariel Castro hanged himself in his cell barely a month into a life sentence.

Even the prosecutor on the case 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, 53, was found hanging from a bedsheet 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, 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."

As the shocking news set in, prison officials faced questions about how a high-profile inmate managed to commit suicide while in protective custody. Just a month ago, an Ohio death row inmate killed himself days before he was to be executed.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called for a full investigation by state prison authorities.

"As horrifying as Mr. Castro's crimes may be, the state has a responsibility to ensure his safety from himself and others," executive director Christine Link said in a statement.

Through a spokeswoman, Castro's 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."

Castro had been in a cell by himself in protective custody, meaning he was checked every 30 minutes, because of fears his notoriety could lead to attacks from other inmates, authorities said.

He was not on a suicide watch, which entails constant supervision, Smith said. She would not say why.

Castro had been on a suicide watch for a few weeks in the Cuyahoga County jail, before he pleaded guilty and was turned over to state authorities, and police said after his arrest that they had found a years-old note in which he talked about suicide.

But authorities at the jail dropped the suicide watch in June after concluding he was unlikely to take his own life.

Castro's captives — Amanda 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.

Knight told authorities that Castro impregnated her repeatedly and made her miscarry by starving her and punching her in the belly. Berry said she 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.

Castro "took the easy way out," said James King, who lives down the street. "He knew what he did was wrong, so he killed himself."

No one answered the door at the home of Castro's mother and brother.

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. Schlachet would not comment further.

Lindsay M. Hayes, director of the suicide prevention project of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, said inmates are not kept indefinitely on suicide watch unless their behavior warrants it.

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, 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."

Associated Press writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland and Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.

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