Officials investigating prisoner death at Lebanon Correctional Institution

Authorities: Death is apparent suicide

LEBANON, Oh. -- The Ohio State Highway Patrol is investigating the death of a 31-year-old prisoner found hanging in his cell at Lebanon Correctional Institution earlier this week.

Corrections officials said Friday that James Blackburn, of Trumbull County, was found dead Tuesday morning by his cell mate, who had cut a noose from around Blackburn’s neck and placed him on the floor before first responders arrived. The cell mate found Blackburn at 2:09 a.m. He was pronounced dead at 2:27 a.m., according to prison records.

Blackburn, imprisoned since 2006, was serving a 21-year prison sentence for multiple rape convictions.

The Warren County Coroner’s office said it's investigating Blackburn’s death as a probable suicide, but an official cause of death will not be determined for six to eight weeks.

His death would mark the third case of an Ohio prisoner killing himself in two months and the eighth suicide in Ohio prisons this year.

Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro committed suicide last week at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient. Castro was accused of holding three women captive in his home for about a decade. Ohio's prison system is reviewing how Castro managed to hang himself with a bed sheet while in protective custody.

Billy Slagle, a death row inmate condemned for stabbing his neighbor during a Cleveland burglary, killed himself at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution last month, just days before his scheduled execution. 

The Ohio Department of Corrections has declined to comment about Blackburn's death, pending the completion of the official investigation. 

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