Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Little girl's kidnapper strangled in his cell

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        TURTLECREEK TWP. — A Lancaster, Ohio, man convicted of kidnapping a 3-year-old and holding her hostage in his attic last year has been found strangled in his prison cell at Warren Correctional Institution.

        A corrections officer making routine checks found the body of Jason E. Wagner, 25, shortly before midnight Monday in the protective custody section, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said.

        Joe Andrews, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said Mr. Wagner had been locked down for the night with his cellmate, Timothy L. Hancock, 30, since about 9:30 p.m. Monday.

        State troopers investigating the slaying said they have questioned a suspect but have not filed any charges against the prisoner. Sgt. Gary Lewis declined to identify the suspect or confirm it was the cellmate.

        “We have a suspect, and basically we have to present information to a prosecutor and let him make the determination,” Sgt. Lewis said.

        The cellmate, Mr. Hancock, has spent the past 10 years in prison and is serving 24 years to life on charges of aggravated murder and felonious assault in Allen County, corrections records show. Mr. Andrews declined to say why Mr. Hancock was in protective custody, saying that information is confidential by law.

        Warren County Prosecutor Tim Oliver said he was given few details about the case but expects it will be taken directly to a grand jury because the suspect already is in custody.

        Mr. Wagner was among 120 inmates in the protective custody pod at WCI. He was placed in the wing March 9 — a week after his arrival at the prison — because of the nature of his crime, Mr. Andrews said.

        He said that there was no history of trouble between Mr. Wagner and Mr. Hancock and that Mr. Wagner had not posed any disciplinary problems at the prison.

        Mr. Wagner, who had a history of sex offenses involving children, was sentenced in February to serve 44 years to life in prison for taking Ashley Taggart from her yard in Lancaster, about 30 miles east of Columbus.

        Volunteers searched for four days before police found the girl, bound and gagged but alive, in an attic in a rented house where Mr. Wagner was staying about 100 yards from her home.

        Mr. Wagner pleaded guilty to charges that included kidnapping, felonious assault, attempted murder and child endangering.

        Ashley's grandmother, Pam Echard, said she learned of Mr. Wagner's death about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday from a Columbus TV reporter. She expressed relief.

        “It's ended, and he's gone. ... It was a relief when (Mr. Wagner) was sentenced and sent to prison,” Mrs. Echard said. “Now it's more like closure, knowing he will never, ever hurt anyone else again.”

       Hollie Saunders of Gannett News Service contributed to this report.


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