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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A convicted killer sentenced to death for the 1979 murder of a 13-year-old boy has hanged himself on California's death row, months before voters in the state are due to decide whether to abolish the death penalty, prison officials said on Tuesday.
James Lee Crummel, 68, was found hanging in his cell at San Quentin State Prison, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Sam Robinson said in a written statement.
Crummel, who had prior convictions for child molestation, was pronounced dead at 4:20 p.m. on Sunday. He was sentenced to death in 2004 for the 1979 kidnapping, sexual abuse and murder of 13-year-old Wilfred Trotter, Robinson said. Crummel had been housed on death row ever since.
The body of Trotter, who disappeared on his way to school, was not found until 1990 and his identity was not confirmed until 1996.
The suicide comes ahead of a ballot measure in California in November in which voters will decide whether to repeal the death penalty in a state that is home to nearly a quarter of the nation's death row inmates.
The ballot initiative focuses on the high cost of the death penalty in a state that has executed 13 people since capital punishment was reinstated in the nation in 1976. More than 720 inmates sit on death row pending lengthy and expensive appeals.
Crummel joins another 20 inmates who have committed suicide while on California's death row. According to the corrections department, since capital punishment was reinstated in California in 1978, 57 condemned inmates in the state have died from natural causes and six died from other causes.
A federal judge halted all California executions in 2006 after ruling that the three-drug protocol that has been used for lethal injections carried the risk of causing the inmate too much pain and suffering before death.
California has since revised its protocol but an appeals court has blocked resumption of executions over the same objections.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman