By Sam Stanton
Corrections officials are investigating the death Monday of an inmate at California State Prison-Corcoran as a suicide, despite claims by inmate advocates that the prisoner was participating in a hunger strike and had been asking for medical help.
Supporters of inmates who have been participating in a hunger strike for three weeks claim that inmate Billy Michael Sell, 32, was taking part in the strike when he died in the Security Housing Unit. A press release from the advocates claims the inmate had been "requesting medical attention for several days prior to his death."
Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said in an email this afternoon that officials are investigating the death of a 32-year-old inmate Monday as a suicide.
"On that date, staff found a 32-year-old inmate unresponsive," she wrote. "He was single-celled. The inmate was pronounced dead in the prison's hospital at 9:32 p.m. The inmate was not participating in the hunger strike at the time of his death."
Corrections officials have not yet identified the inmate, but said he was serving a double-life sentence out of Solano County for attempted first-degree murder. He also was facing trial in the 2007 slaying of his cellmate at Corcoran.
The Kings County coroner must release the official cause of death, and no one in that office could be reached today.