CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Ariel Castro committed suicide by hanging himself with a bed sheet in his prison cell, an Ohio coroner said on Wednesday, just one month into a life sentence for the kidnapping, rape and beatings of three women he imprisoned for a decade.
The former school bus driver, who pleaded guilty to 937 counts in July, was found hanged in his cell at an Ohio prison late Tuesday, a state corrections official said.
An autopsy on Wednesday confirmed the cause of death was suicide by hanging, said Dr. Jan Gorniak, the Franklin County coroner.
Castro, 53, was sentenced on August 1 to life plus 1,000 years in prison without the possibility of parole for abducting the three women and keeping them in the dungeon-like confines of his house, where they were starved, beaten and sexually assaulted.
Though he had not been on suicide watch, he was in protective custody with guards checking on him every half hour. He was isolated from other inmates at the Correctional Reception Centre in Orient.
"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 Timothy McGinty, who agreed to a deal that spared Castro the death penalty in exchange for life in prison.
The case captured international attention in May, when many people were elated by news the three women had been found alive, then stunned by the details of their ordeal.
Some $1.4 million in charitable donations poured in from 10,800 donors seeking to help the women resume their lives.
The house where the three were held, bound with chains and ropes for periods of time, has been torn down along with two neighbouring abandoned homes, creating an extended vacant lot in the working-class neighbourhood.
"ROT IN HELL"
"Rot in hell, Castro," a woman passenger yelled from a white sport utility vehicle driving by the site on Wednesday, part of a slow but steady line of cars moving past a group of television trucks.
"I guess he couldn't handle it. He took the coward's way out," said neighbour Walter Freeman, 57.
In May, police found a suicide note and confession written by Castro upon searching his home.
His lawyer said on Wednesday that prison authorities repeatedly denied him a psychologist.
"If the state of Ohio is going to incarcerate an individual they should protect that individual from themselves and others," defence attorney Jay Schlachet said.
"This is not good for the system and not good for the families," the lawyer said.
Castro was taken into custody in May, just after Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32, were freed with assistance from neighbours who heard Berry's cries for help.
Also rescued was Berry's 6-year-old daughter, fathered by Castro and born during her mother's captivity.
Castro pleaded guilty in July to kidnapping, rape, felonious assault and aggravated murder under a fatal homicide law for the forcible miscarriage of one of his three victims and had been incarcerated since August 5 at the Correctional Reception Centre outside Columbus, the state capital, about 150 miles (240 km) southeast of Cleveland.
He was to remain there while undergoing mental and physical evaluation before being transferred to a permanent lockup, prison officials said.
The Ohio prisons are at 130 percent capacity, a prison watchdog group says, and the Castro hanging closely follows two other high-profile deaths.
An Ohio death row inmate, Billy Slagle, 44, was found hanged in his prison cell on August 4, three days before he was due to be executed for the 1987 murder of a babysitter. Results of an investigation had yet to be released.
James Oglesby, 32, who was serving a life sentence for aggravated murder and kidnapping, died August 22 at a Toledo hospital after being beaten with baseball bats in the recreation yard at Toledo Correctional Institution.
Ohio's prison system had one confirmed homicide in 2010, two in 2011 and three in 2012, according to Joanna Saul, executive director of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, a state legislative group that monitors prisons.
(Writing by Daniel Trotter; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)