A condemned Ohio man who apparently hanged himself just days before his execution didn't know his legal team had new information about his case and planned to ask for a delay, one of his lawyers said.
Billy Slagle died Sunday after he was found in his cell on Ohio's death row, a day before his attorneys were to ask the state Supreme Court to stop the execution. It had been scheduled for Wednesday.
A coroner said preliminary autopsy results were consistent with suicide by hanging. Prison officials haven't said how Slagle, 44, hanged himself.
Slagle's attorneys found out late Friday afternoon that prosecutors had offered their client a plea deal before his 1988 trial but that Slagle's former attorneys didn't tell him about the offer. The Columbus Dispatch first reported their discovery.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on cases where attorneys fail to inform clients about a plea offer would have bolstered their argument, said Vicki Werneke, a public defender representing Slagle.
"We were hopeful the Ohio Supreme Court would have granted a stay," she said.
The new information about the plea offer was brought to light by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who called Slagle's attorneys. McGinty told them that the county's former prosecutor offered Slagle a 30-year sentence if he pleaded guilty.
A former assistant prosecutor who worked on the case recently alerted the office about the forgotten plea deal, said McGinty spokesman Joe Frolik. "We felt we had to let Slagle's appeals team know that," he said.
The county prosecutor's office would not have opposed a request to delay the execution based on the new evidence, Frolik said.
Slagle was sentenced to be executed for fatally stabbing a Cleveland neighbor in 1987 while two young children she was watching were in the house during a burglary.
McGinty had earlier asked the Ohio Parole Board to spare Slagle, saying that jurors today, with the option of life without parole, would be unlikely to sentence Slagle to death.
The parole board and Gov. John Kasich both rejected mercy for Slagle.
Werneke said she and attorney Joseph Wilhelm did not tell Slagle about the attempt to delay the execution because they didn't think they could reach him at the prison over the weekend.
She said that Slagle once brought up that he was never offered a plea deal while they were preparing in May for a clemency hearing. "He said if he would've been offered a deal, he would've taken it," Werneke said.
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