An eastern Iowa man, who was serving a life prison term for first-degree murder, took his own life over the weekend. Iowa Department of Corrections spokesperson Fred Scaletta says 21-year-old Ryan Wichhart of North Liberty was being held at the State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.
"He was hanging by a sheet wrapped around his neck from the bars at the front of the cell," Scaletta said. Wichhart was pronounced dead early Sunday morning. He was convicted in June of 2006 for the strangulation death of 44-year-old Kathi Mertens of Mount Pleasant.
Scaletta says Mertens was a drug counselor at a facility in Burlington where Wichhart had been a patient. He was accused of raping and murdering Mertens. Late last year, Wichhart had his bid for retrial rejected by the Iowa Supreme Court. It’s not the first time an Iowa prison inmate has hanged himself with a bedsheet.
Scaletta says the circumstances surrounding Wichhart’s death will be reviewed. "But it’s not likely much can be changed to prevent things like this," Scaletta said. "It’s one of those types of things that sometimes happens in our business that don’t have an explanation to them. And the bottom line is, if someone wants to commit suicide and they have a chance to think about it…it’s going to happen no matter what we do."