By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A convicted killer who hanged himself on California's death row did so using an extension cord for an appliance in his cell and had not previously been considered a suicide risk, a prison spokesman said on Wednesday.
James Lee Crummel, 68, was found hanging in his one-man cell at San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco on Sunday, five months before Californians are due to vote in November on a ballot measure aimed at repealing the state's death penalty.
Crummel had been sentenced to die for the 1979 murder of a teenage boy.
"He used what appeared to be a piece of extension cord from a radio or TV or some other appliance in his cell," San Quentin spokesman Lieutenant Warren Baxter said.
Baxter said death row prisoners at San Quentin are allowed televisions, radios and fans and that the power cords were not considered a concern unless the inmate was on suicide watch.
Prison officials said that policy would likely be reviewed following Crummel's suicide.
Crummel, who had been housed at San Quentin since he was sentenced to death in 2004, had not been on suicide watch. Baxter said he had no disciplinary issues and had given no indication he was planning to kill himself.
Crummel was found by a guard during a routine 4 p.m. "standing count," in which prisoners are required to stand so that guards can see them, he said.
Baxter said no other inmates were believed to have heard or seen Crummel hanging himself in the back of his cell.
Attorney Bill Hassler, who represented Crummel on his appeal before the California Supreme Court, said authorities should investigate the incident.
"That is not something they should allow to happen," Hassler said. "He was a feeble man, used a wheelchair."
Hassler said he had corresponded with Crummel in recent weeks but saw no suggestion that his client was suicidal.
San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Bill Mitchell, who prosecuted Crummel, reacted to his suicide by saying: "I'm very pleased. I wish it had been many years sooner. The world would have been a better place without him in it.
"I've done a lot of murder cases. I've sent 10 people to death row, and Crummel was one of the worst because he victimized young kids; he targeted them."
Crummel faced execution for the kidnapping, sexual abuse and murder of 13-year-old James Wilfred Trotter, who disappeared in April 1979 after leaving the Costa Mesa, California, hotel room he shared with his mother.
In 1990, Crummel led authorities to the boy's charred skeletal remains in a remote area of Orange County, claiming to have discovered them while hiking, Mitchell said. Crummel was eventually linked to the crime through circumstantial evidence.
Mitchell said Crummel served previous prison terms for child molestation and attempted murder and was considered a suspect in the disappearance of two other California boys.
"The guy has preyed on children and other weak individuals his whole life and finally realized he wasn't going to get a steady supply of them any longer," Mitchell said. "He probably got tired of being by himself with his ugly memories. I can't say I'm surprised. I'm just glad that he's no longer with us."
Twenty inmates have committed suicide on California's death row since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1978.
A federal judge halted executions in California in 2006 after ruling that the three-drug protocol that had been used for lethal injections carried the risk of causing the inmate too much pain and suffering before death.
California has revised its protocol but an appeals court has blocked resumption of executions over the same objections.
(Editing by Bill Trott and Lisa Shumaker)