Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner

Office of Public Information
[518] 457-8182

For immediate release:

Tuesday, August 10, 1999

Inmate Ralph Tortorici hangs self in prison cell

Inmate Ralph Tortorici ( # 96-A-1194), who held more than three dozen SUNY-Albany students hostage in a classroom in December of 1994, was found hanging in his cell at 4:48 a.m. today in the maximum-security Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg in Sullivan County, approximately 116 miles south of Albany.

A Correction Officer making rounds found Tortorici with an unaltered bedsheet tied around his neck and tied to a clothing shelf in his cell. A nurse was summoned from the prison infirmary. He was pronounced dead in the infirmary at 6:47 a.m. by the county coroner. Tortorici was last seen alive in his cell at 4:30 a.m. by an Officer making regular rounds.

As in all unattended deaths in state prison, an autopsy is pending and investigations are being conducted by the Department's Office of the Inspector General as well as by the State Commission of Correction.

Tortorici, 31, was received into the prison system on February 27, 1996, serving a sentence of 15 2/3-40 years on 10 counts - four of kidnaping, four of reckless endangerment, one of first-degree assault and one of first-degree criminal use of a firearm. All 10 charges stemmed from the incident at SUNY-Albany, during which he shot one student in the groin area and fired at least one round at the police officers who were attempting to negotiate his surrender and the release of the hostages. His original parole date was October 2, 2011, with a maximum expiration date of February 2, 2036.

Tortorici was housed at Sullivan because it is one of the prison system's nine general confinement facilities for males offering "level one" care by the state's Office of Mental Health. Staffing there includes a full complement of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals. Tortorici had been housed in that 64-cell mental health Intermediate Care Program since his July 14 return from the Central New York Psychiatric Center in Marcy. Since his incarceration, Tortorici had spent 19 months at Sullivan and 22 months at Marcy.

Tortorici was being seen daily by mental health staff as well as receiving weekly treatment services. Other than that, his day consisted of time in his cell, plus access to libraries, the yard and recreation areas. Cells in the unit are 7-by-11 feet and include a bed, locker, stool, clothing shelf, desk, toilet and sink.

Tortorici had previously attempted suicide at Sullivan on July 24, 1996, when he was found at 11:55 a.m. with a sheet around his neck tied to the shelf in his cell. He received medical treatment at the prison infirmary before being transferred to a local hospital.

Sullivan, with a capacity for 594 inmates, today houses 570. It was opened in 1985. The last suicide at the facility was in May of this year. There have been five previous suicides this year at the state's 71 facilities, which as of today house 71,517 inmates.