CLEVELAND (AP) — A U.S. man condemned to death for fatally stabbing a neighbor during a burglary was found hanged in his cell Sunday, three days before his scheduled execution.

Billy Slagle, 44, was found hanging less than two weeks after the governor of Ohio had rejected clemency for him despite a rare plea of mercy from the prosecutor overseeing his case.

His attorney, Vicki Werneke, said the defense is shocked and had hoped to stop Slagle's Wednesday execution. The defense had no warning that he would commit suicide, Werneke said in an email to The Associated Press.

Slagle was declared dead within an hour after he was found hanging at about 5 a.m. in his cell at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution south of Columbus, Ohio, prison spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said. The coroner plans an autopsy Monday.

"He was in his cell alone. No other inmates suspected to be involved," Smith said in an email. "It does appear to be a suicide."

Under regular prison policy, Slagle was scheduled to be placed under pre-execution watch Sunday morning but "was not yet placed under constant watch," Smith said.

Slagle was sentenced to die for the 1987 stabbing of Mari Anne Pope, who was killed while two young children she was watching were in the house in Cleveland.

Prosecutor Tim McGinty had asked the Ohio Parole Board to spare Slagle, saying jurors today, with the option of life without parole, would be unlikely to sentence Slagle to death.

The parole board and Gov. John Kasich both rejected mercy for Slagle.

Last week, Slagle's attorneys argued that a jury never got the chance to hear the full details of his troubled childhood.

The attorneys, arguing for a new trial and to delay his execution, said that information met requirements for asking for a new trial, which normally must happen within four months of a conviction.

Slagle was "unavoidably prevented" from filing his request because his original attorneys didn't develop and present the evidence, the filing said.

McGinty and Slagle's attorneys had cited his age — at 18, he was barely old enough for execution in Ohio — and his history of alcohol and drug addiction.

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Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus contributed to this report