Alleged serial killer Ocampo died from ingesting Ajax, lawyer says

Homeless Homicide

Nick Ut/AP

In this file photo, defendant Itzcoatl Ocampo confers with attorney Randall Longwith during Ocampo's arraignment Tuesday Feb. 21, 2012 in Santa Ana, Calif. Ocampo, a former Marine, was charged with the murder of six people in Southern California, including four homeless men and a friend's mother and brother. Attorney Michael Molfetta said Friday that Ocampo died in custody after ingesting Ajax.

The former Marine and Iraq war veteran who was awaiting trial on murder charges in the deaths of six people, including four homeless men, died after ingesting Ajax in his jail cell, his lawyer said Friday.

Itzcoatl Ocampo, 25, apparently accumulated the cleaning product over time while in custody, said his attorney, Michael Molfetta, who was briefed on the death. The incident raises serious questions about how well Orange County jail deputies were supervising Ocampo, who had mental health issues, Molfetta said.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department would not comment to KPCC on the Ajax allegation. A spokesman there said the rumor may have started with e-mails the District Attorney's office sent to victims' families informing them of what happened to Ocampo. 

But Marie Middaugh, mother of Lloyd "Jimmy" Middaugh, one of the homeless men allegedly killed by Ocampo, told KPCC that neither of the two e-mails she received from the D.A.'s office said anything about what killed Ocampo. 

Ocampo was found shaking and vomiting in his single-man cell Wednesday and taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead Thursday afternoon, said Orange County sheriff's Lt. Jeff Hallock.

No cause of death was immediately given, and officials said an autopsy will be performed in the coming days. The Orange County district attorney's office will investigate the death and autopsy results by an independent pathologist are expected by the middle of next week, Hallock said.

"If you spend three minutes with Ocampo, you are acutely aware of the fact that he has some mental issues. They were severe and they were obvious and they definitely were not contrived," Molfetta told the Associated Press.

"[Ocampo] is supposedly a very calculated — and I am quoting the prosecutor — 'thrill killer,'" Molfetta said later in an interview with KPCC. "You would think that that would be somebody that would be watched very closely… but apparently not."

Hallock initially declined to comment to the AP on inmate supervision or the attorney's account except to say jail deputies are required, in general, to walk by each inmate's cell a minimum of once an hour.

Hallock did, however, confirm with KPCC that inmates can request a powdered cleaning agent to clean their cells — just enough for one cleaning. He said it was likely in the two or so years Ocampo was in the prison that he had been given such cleaners, since inmates are expected to clean their own cells.

"At times they may be supervised but other times they may just hand them a small quantity and expect that they are going to clean their cell with that," Hallock said.

Hallock also told KPCC that Ocampo was not in a medical unit designed for inmates at immediate risk of suicide at the time of his death.

Middaugh told the AP Friday that she was relieved to hear the news of Ocampo's death.

"A trial wouldn't have brought our loved ones back," she said. "I'm sorry things happened the way it did for his family because I know they're grieving, too, but I'm just glad that really it's all over."

Someone at a number listed for Ocampo's father hung up repeatedly when a reporter called Friday.

Prosecutors alleged that Ocampo, a native of Mexico, stabbed four homeless men in what they called a serial thrill-kill rampage in late 2011 and early 2012. Ocampo targeted his homeless victims because they were vulnerable and because he felt they were a blight on the community, authorities said.

He was charged in January 2012 with four counts of murder, with special allegations of multiple murders, lying in wait and use of a deadly weapon. Three victims were stabbed more than 40 times each with a single-edged blade at least 7 inches long. In one instance, prosecutors, said, Ocampo selected as his next victim a homeless man who was featured in a Los Angeles Times story about the killings.

Ocampo, who was discharged from the Marines in 2010, also was facing murder charges in the deaths of a school friend's mother and brother in October 2011.

At the time, his family said Ocampo was a troubled man after he returned from Iraq in 2008 and he went to visit the grave of a friend who died in combat in Afghanistan twice a week. He also began drinking heavily and he suffered from headaches and hand tremors, they said.

His parents separated in 2010 and his father became homeless after losing his job. During the killing rampage, Ocampo visited his father on the streets and warned him about the dangers of being homeless, even showing him a picture of one of the dead men.

In March 2012, Ocampo temporarily was placed on suicide watch after he began banging his head on a metal toilet in the jail. He told his attorney he was trying to stop voices as well as headaches and twitches that were bothering him, according to The Orange County Register.

This story has been updated.

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