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$12,500 Settlement in Suit Over Ohio Death Row Prisoner's Suicide

In April 2016, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) settled for $12,500 a lawsuit brought by the estate and survivors of a death row prisoner who committed suicide three days before he was scheduled to be executed.

Billy Slagle, 44, had been convicted of aggravated murder in 1988 and sentenced to death. Three days before he was scheduled to be executed in 2013, his body was found hanging from a belt in his Death Row cell.

Slagle's estate, two siblings and mother filed a federal civil rights lawsuit with pendent state tort claims alleging Slagle was improperly supervised by untrained guards who allowed him to obtain a belt and commit suicide even though the enhanced risk of suicide among Death Row prisoners was well known.

According to court documents, Slagle's death sentence would likely have been commuted and he would have been paroled had he not been allowed to commit suicide.

The court documents allege that, about 36 hours prior to his suicide, prosecutors learned that a pre-trial plea bargain offer of 30 years to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole had not been communicated to Slagle by his criminal defense trial attorneys, J. Ross Haffey and Granville Bradley. This information was not communicated to Slagle or his post-conviction attorneys prior to the suicide.

The documents allege that the information would likely have resulted in a commutation to the 30-year sentence and Slagle's release on parole. They also allege that Clay Putnam and John McCollister, the guards working on Death Row on the day of the suicide, were "relief officers" who had not received the proper eight hours of Death Row training for relief officers and that McCollister falsified electronic documentation to show that they performed scheduled cell checks of Death Row cells they had not actually done.

The documents also allege that neither the "30-day watch" cell nor the "72 hours watch" cell that prisoners awaiting execution were placed in were safe environments for the prevention of suicide or self-harm.

In April 2016, the ODRC settled the lawsuit for $12,500. See: Craft v. Robinson, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Ohio), Case No. 1:14-cv-01682.

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