US Murder Suspect Dies in Custody at Hospital

US national Grant Kim Helling, a professional poker player charged by the Phnom Penh court in Feb­ruary with killing a Vietnamese wo­man, committed suicide Saturday morning by hanging himself at an Interior Ministry hospital, according to officials.

Helling, 47, was arrested Feb 22 at his rental home in Boeng Keng Kang I commune after he allegedly strangled an unidentified Vietna­m­ese woman with a coat hanger. He then allegedly attempted to burn down the house before leaping out the second-story window, seriously injuring his leg.

On Saturday at Monivong Hos­pital, where Helling was having his leg examined by doctors, the Am­er­ican went to the bathroom and hanged himself, said Mong Kim Heng, director of Prey Sar prison’s Correction Center 1.

“He committed suicide by hanging himself with his krama,” Mong Kim Heng said Sunday, but added that he did not know how the suspect managed to kill himself while under the watch of prison guards.

A doctor at Monivong Hospital, who spoke on condition of anon­y­m­ity, confirmed Sunday that Hel­ling was dead, but said he did not know how he had died.

In an interview at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital in March, Hel­ling told a reporter that the Vie­tna­mese woman’s death was an accident.

“It’s one of those things you can’t avoid—like a mosquito,” he said at the time.

According to the World Poker Tour Web site, Helling, an electrical contractor in Chicago, was a regular participant in the US World Poker Tour and won $170,175 in a 2004 tournament.

Helling is not the first American to commit suicide while in custody.

In 2006, 50-year-old suspected pedophile American Don­ald Re­ne Ramirez reportedly used a mop handle to drag a police handgun in­to his cell at Phnom Penh’s municipal anti-human trafficking police headquarters and shoot himself.

US Embassy spokesman John Johnson declined to comment.

     (Ad­ditional reporting by James Welsh)

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