Ohio Death Row Suicide Uncovers Breakdowns

Tuesday August 23, 2005 1:31 AM
Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A death row inmate who committed suicide in May was likely dead more than three hours before his body was found, indicating a breakdown in the system for checking on prisoners, according to a report released Monday.

The state said it fired two prison guards over the handling of the May 7 suicide of Martin Koliser, sentenced to die for killing a Youngstown police officer in 2003. Koliser used a nylon belt that he tied around the frame of his bunk bed to hang himself.

The report, released at the request of The Associated Press, follows an unsuccessful escape attempt from death row in February in which two inmates built a ladder from sheets and rolled-up newspapers and magazines. In that incident, prison officials blamed ``gross deficiencies in supervision'' and reprimanded several administrators, including the warden.

Collectively, the two problems look bad coming so close together, prison system spokeswoman Andrea Dean acknowledged Monday.

``But we've addressed both incidents. People have been disciplined as a result of both incidents,'' she said. ``We're confident that changes are being made and that people are being held accountable and they're going to carry out their job duties in an appropriate manner.''

In the report on the suicide, the prison based its conclusions on interviews with inmates, guards and a videotape taken when Koliser's body was found that shows muscle stiffening - something that occurs hours after death, Dean said.

Under prison procedures, a guard should have checked on Koliser twice an hour. Instead, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said a check was made about 1:30 a.m. and again about 5:30 a.m., when the body was found, according to the report released at the request of The Associated Press.

The prison system believes the suicide happened between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m., contradicting the coroner's report, which concluded Koliser died at 5:30 a.m.

Coroner Stewart Ryckman said Monday he's sticking with his report, saying he has experienced investigators.

Ryckman did say it's possible Koliser died slightly earlier than 5:30 a.m. He also has requested a copy of the prison videotape of the scene.

The state said it fired guards James Clark and Jeffrey Whitaker and disciplined unit Capt. John Cantrell. Messages seeking comment were left for the three.

Koliser was on death row for killing Youngstown patrolman Michael Hartzell, 26.

Koliser told a fellow inmate he was going to commit suicide over the state's decision to move death row to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, fearing for his life since he killed a police officer from that city, according to the report.

On the Net:
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction: http://www.drc.state.oh.us/