Josue Pena, the man accused of firing the shot that killed nine-year-old Oscar Fuentes, was found hanging in his cell at the D.C. Jail and has died, police have confirmed.
Pena, 26, had been charged with first-degree murder, allegedly shooting blindly through the door of a Columbia Heights apartment, striking young Fuentes on the other side. Neighbors reported that Pena was known in the community as sicopata—-“psychopath.” According to WTTG-TV: “Jail officials say Pena was found hanging in his cell just after 1 p.m. He was immediately taken to Howard University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.”
The Washington Post posted a report of an unconscious inmate shortly before 2 p.m. Police spokesperson Kevin Palmer says the incident has been deemed a “suspicious death.”
WTOP reports: “D.C. Department of Corrections spokesperson Sylvia Lane says Pena was placed in a special management unit that is reserved for inmates who require enhanced supervision for security reasons….Lane says Pena, who was described as an associate of MS-13, died of cardiac arrest brought on by asphyxiation. His death is under investigation.”
Nila Ritenour, chair of the D.C. Jail officers union, tells City Desk that Pena had been incarcerated in South One, where inmates in protective custody are held. Inmates there, she says, usually have a cell to themselves; Pena was being checked on at least every 30 minutes. “All the officers had done their checks,” she says, saying that Pena had committed suicide between the inspections.
Says Ritenour: “He was just quiet, a quiet person. I don’t know if he was thinking about everything in his life or what. He just kept to himself.”
Jail spokesperson Sylvia Lane also calls the death the result of an “apparent suicide attempt” and says corrections officials are “in the middle of fact-finding.”
UPDATE, 8:49 P.M.: Lane just e-mailed to provide a little more context to Pena’s apparent suicide. She writes that Pena was housed in his own cell. There were four guards on duty and assigned to Pena’s block at the time of his death. As to the question: When was the last time a guard checked in on Pena? That is being investigated.
And Councilmember Jim Graham has released a statement on Pena’s apparent suicide:
“It is my sincerest hope that the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Department of Corrections fully investigate the death of Josue Pena.
But his death, though unexpected, means that justice may have been served in the murder of 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes.”
This is crass even for the Grahamstander. The councilmember should know that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Justice is never served by a defendant’s suicide. —-Jason Cherkis
Additional reporting and snarky Graham commentary by Jason Cherkis