(RALEIGH) - A murder suspect in the 2002 death of Virginia native Stephanie Renee Bennett committed suicide Monday in North Carolina's most secure prison, his attorney said.
Drew Planten, 35, committed suicide about 2 p.m. in his cell at Raleigh's Central Prison, the state's only maximum security prison, said Kirk Osborn, his appointed lawyer. Osborn said he spoke to prison administrators, who confirmed Planten's death.
Spokesmen for the prison, the state Department of Correction and Raleigh police did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Planten was accused of raping and strangling Bennett, 23, in her Raleigh apartment in 2002. Police said they arrested Planten on Oct. 19 after a DNA sample they collected from his job at the state Agriculture Department and Consumer Affairs matched semen found at the crime scene.
Planten was transferred from the Wake County jail to Central Prison because after his arrest he refused to eat or otherwise cooperate with jailers. Before his arrest, Planten had written a will and stored it on his computer at work.
"My understanding is he was over there (at the state prison) for safekeeping because he was having mental problems," Osborn said. "My understanding was that they could observe him 24 hours a day with video cameras. I don't know if that's true but that's what I understood."
He said he met with Planten on Thursday for more than an hour to discuss the case. Osborn said his client seemed much improved from the man with disheveled long haired hiding his face who authorities trussed into a wheelchair and wheeled before a judge because he refused to cooperate.
"He was conversant. He was doing fine," Osborn said.
Bennett was killed and raped May 21, 2002, police said. A native of Rocky Mount, Va., she had moved to Raleigh after graduating from Roanoke College in Salem, Va.
Police said in October one person had been seen near the apartment in the weeks before the crime and that they believe Planten was that person. Planten was a "peeping Tom" and there was no indication he knew Bennett, police said.
Planten moved to Raleigh from Michigan in 1998 to take a job with the state Department of Agriculture, police said. He was a fertilizer analyst at the time of his arrest.
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