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Police-Killer Cinco Is Found Hanged in His Death Row Cell : Was Convicted of Slaying 2 Officers During Gun Battle in Balboa Park

December 29, 1988|RICHARD A. SERRANO | Times Staff Writer

Joselito Cinco, sentenced to die last summer for killing two San Diego police officers, apparently took his own life by hanging himself with a sock in his San Quentin prison cell, officials said Wednesday.

Lt. Cal White, a spokesman at the prison, said the 29-year-old Cinco was found about 2:44 a.m. Monday. He had apparently hanged himself by rolling and tightly pulling on the sock, fastening it to the top of his 8-foot cell door, then wrapping the other end around his neck, White said.

He was pronounced dead in the prison infirmary about 15 minutes after the discovery.

Cinco arrived on San Quentin's death row in July, after being convicted and sentenced to die earlier this year for killing two police officers and seriously wounding a third in a gun battle in Balboa Park four years ago.

Tearfully Begged Judge

Shortly before he was sentenced in June, his mother got down on her knees and tearfully begged a judge to spare her son's life. And Cinco himself, speaking for the only time publicly about the killings, blamed them on a "drug-induced impulse."

"I wish I could turn back the hands of time," Cinco said then. "If I could, I'd gladly trade my life for theirs."

News of Cinco's apparent suicide swept through San Diego police headquarters Wednesday.

"I'm relieved. I'm glad it's over and done with," said Officer Gary Mitrovich, who has returned to field duty since being shot by Cinco in the shoulder. "I was expecting a long appeals process and a very iffy possibility that he would be put to death.

"But I don't really have any feelings toward him either way. I'm not jumping up and down about his death. But I am glad it's over now."

Chief Bob Burgreen said slain Officers Timothy Ruopp and Kimberly Tonahill were "not only good police officers, they were good people."

'Lives Altered Forever'

"On the surface, Mr. Cinco's death would appear to bring to a close one of the most tragic events in the history of the San Diego Police Department," the chief said. "But a lot of innocent people still have to live with what happened that night. Families have been torn apart, lives altered forever. Mr. Cinco's death doesn't change that."

Richard Neely, the assistant San Diego County district attorney who convinced a jury to impose the death penalty on Cinco, said he holds no pity for the man.

"I'm not shedding any tears over Joselito Cinco," he said. "His death, like all suicides, was an act of utter, total despair."

Sgt. Vernell Crittendon, a prison spokesman, said Cinco had not been a "management problem" since he arrived at San Quentin on July 6. He said his "Grade A" classification meant he was in the least restrictive setting for death row inmates.

The sergeant also said that San Quentin allows condemned inmates to have belts, bedding and other material that can be fashioned into nooses, and takes no unusual measures to safeguard against suicides among death row inmates.

Patrol More Often

However, since all death row tiers are maximum security, officers do patrol more often than in other cellblocks, Crittendon said.

Noting that Cinco had been on death row less than six months, prison spokesman White said Cinco had caused few problems for officials. He said he was unaware of any past suicide attempts by Cinco, and said the condemned man did not leave a suicide note in his cell.

"He was a very low-profile individual," White said. "He wasn't a troublemaker or anything like that."

The official declaration of the cause of death has not been released, but prison officials said all indications are that it was suicide.

Dr. Ervin J. Jindrich, the Marin County coroner and a forensic pathologist, said an autopsy has been completed, but the final results are not in, pending lab tests.

However, he added that Cinco was discovered hanging by his neck in his cell and that ligature marks were found under his chin and up to his right ear. He said no other signs of trauma were found on the body.

No Noticeable Tendencies

John T. Phillipsborn, one of Cinco's attorneys, said his client was "fairly depressed about his circumstances," but had not displayed any noticeable suicidal tendencies.

Ralph Hofer, an attorney who earlier this month was appointed to represent Cinco in the appeals, said he had obtained a trial transcript just Friday.

"I was going to get in touch with him this week," Hofer said. "Now the only fact I have is that my client is dead."

Although Cinco was found Monday morning, prison officials indicated that word of his death was not immediately released because of difficulties in locating his family. His mother, Lolita Cinco Zamora, reportedly was in the Philippines at the time of her son's death.

Cinco was the second death row inmate to kill himself this year. Inmate Mose Willis, sentenced in Los Angeles to death, hanged himself in his cell June 26.

In all, half-a-dozen death row inmates have died as their capital cases were on appeal since the death penalty was reinstated and inmates began arriving on death row in 1979.

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