26-year-old jail inmate hangs himself in cell
The short, adult criminal life of Edward Hill Jr. ended Sunday afternoon in the Dukes County Jail. A guard found Mr. Hill, whose brief history is punctuated by frequent periods of incarceration, hanging from a bed sheet in his cell.
The jailer discovered the lifeless body of Mr. Hill, 26, who most recently lived in Vineyard Haven with a friend who had tried to help him find his way, at approximately 3:20 pm, according to Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack.
Mr. Hill was in jail awaiting a bail review hearing in connection with his arrest last week by the Martha's Vineyard drug task force on a variety of drug charges including possession of cocaine and heroin.
Edward Hill Jr. Courtesy of Jylenne Manning
"They [guards] checked him just before they went out for yard time, and they checked him when they came in from yard time," said Mr. McCormack. Mr. Hill had declined to leave his cell during the jail's one-hour afternoon yard exercise period.
EMTs, State Police and Edgartown police, contacted as soon as Mr. Hill's body was discovered, immediately responded to the jail. "The paramedic on duty pronounced him dead," said Mr. McCormack.
Sheriff McCormack called the State Police who investigate all unattended deaths, and he notified the District Attorney's office. State Police Sergeant Jeff Stone said the investigation continues, and he is awaiting the results of an autopsy. He said no suicide note was found.
Mr. McCormack said Mr. Hill's death was the first suicide in the jail in more than 50 years.
Mr. Hill was no stranger to the quaint looking jail and house of correction located on Upper Main Street in Edgartown.
Born in Stoughton and graduated from Carver High School, he arrived from the mainland after he was offered the opportunity to serve a two-and-a-half-year sentence for selling cocaine in the Island's house of correction. Following his release from the house of correction in April 2005, he moved to the Cape but maintained his Vineyard connections. Late last summer he returned to the Vineyard and moved into the Goah Way house of Jylenne Manning, the mother of a friend he had met in jail.
At the time he killed himself, Mr. Hill had also indicated he would accept a deal to serve a sentence in excess of three years in state prison in connection with charges pending from an arrest last September for carrying a firearm without a license and trafficking in cocaine, according to a police officer familiar with the case.
The prospect of extended incarceration in a state facility may have been a factor in Mr. Hill's suicide, according to those who knew him.
A service for Mr. Hill was scheduled for 10 am tomorrow in the Cartmell Funeral Home in Plymouth.
The recent incarceration of two high-profile inmates, including a member of Saudi Arabia's extended royal family and an off-Island priest convicted of child pornography put the Dukes County Jail and House of Correction in the media spotlight, but for the most part, the century old facility used to house short and long-term prisoners attracts little public attention.
For a variety of reasons, Mr. McCormack accepts prisoners from off-Island. The maximum sentence an inmate may serve is two and a half years per charge. Longer sentences must be served at a state prison.
Mr. Hill's life on the Vineyard began with a trip on the ferry, not as a tourist but as a prisoner on his way to serve a term in the Dukes County House of Correction. As has been the case with a number of off-Island prisoners introduced to the Vineyard, he decided to remain here.
On Sept. 5 police followed Mr. Hill from the house where he was living into downtown Vineyard Haven, where he met Mark Grover, 20, and Anthony Serrano, 29 both of Taunton, at Five Corners.
An arrest followed during which police found 93 grams of cocaine, a small amount of marijuana, 12 grams of heroin, and $1,430 in cash on Mr. Grover.
A search of Mr. Hill's room turned up more than 118 grams of uncut cocaine, a loaded 9mm handgun, $2,777 in cash, and other drug paraphernalia. The arraignment procedures that followed were familiar territory.
Mr. Hill has a lengthy adult record of arraignments and convictions - 48 in total between June 25, 1996 and November 14, 2005 - according to court records provided by the state Criminal History Systems Board. His adult record began on July 2, 1996 with a $50 fine in Wareham District Court on a charge of a minor transporting alcohol.
Two years later, on May 5, 1998 he appeared in Plymouth District Court on a charge of cocaine possession. Mr. Hill was arraigned six more times that year on 12 separate charges, including resisting arrest, breaking and entering and operating a motor vehicle without a license. In almost all cases the disposition was continued without a finding or a suspended sentence until December 2, 1998 when the Barnstable District Court committed him to 10 days for operating with a suspended license.
Mr. Hill was arraigned and convicted on 34 separate charges between March 17,1999 and November 14, 2005 when he was convicted in Wareham District Court on charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace.
During his adult years, Mr. Hill spent time in courts in Plymouth, Barnstable, and Taunton. He received sentences of varying lengths, including one year in connection with a conviction for breaking and entering in 1999.
Mr. Hill's criminal record is made up primarily of motor vehicle, drug, and larceny offenses. In one of the few exceptions on April 3, 2001 he was arraigned on a charge of assault and battery in Plymouth District Court.
Angels and the devil
"He had angels jumping on one shoulder and the devil on the other," said Jylenne Manning of Vineyard Haven, who gave Mr. Hill a place to live and said she tried to help him lead a productive life.
Ms. Manning said she met Mr. Hill through her son and gave him a place to stay in her home on Goah Way. "He'd fallen on hard times," said Ms. Manning in a telephone conversation Monday. "I tried to help him out."
She described Mr. Hill, nicknamed "Turk" for his father's Turkish background, as a troubled young man who had spent much of his life in a variety of institutions but had dreams of turning his life around. "He had good qualities," she said.
He also wrote poetry. Much of the language hints at the struggles that dominated his life, the pain of his childhood and the worthlessness he felt as an adult. In a poem titled, "Life is what you make it," he wrote, "All my bridges lie in rubble, I'm crushed from all my trouble. I'm begging for some help, and I'm screaming for a shovel. But my problems seem to double and my hope begins to die. I'm looking for the truth, but I'm living in a lie. I hate this other guy."
He had taken courses in hotel and restaurant management, worked as a prep cook at a local Vineyard Haven restaurant through a work release program and had a business plan for a barbershop he hoped to open one day. However, according to Ms. Manning he could not stop turning to drugs to make an easy living.
Ms. Manning said she knew what it was like to struggle and formed a close friendship with Mr. Hill. She said he had described his difficult life in a notebook journal.
"I just thought I could make a difference and help him," said Ms. Manning choking up with emotion. "I am going to miss him. I was thinking he is not going to be home for Easter now."