After several suicide and escape attempts, Richard Worthington succeeded in killing himself Thursday night.
The 41-year-old Sandy man, who stormed Alta View Hospital and killed a nurse in 1991, hanged himself inside his prison cell at Ely State Prison in Nevada. He was discovered hanging from a sheet at 5:50 p.m. MST and was dead at the scene."The cell was described as being clean, nothing there to indicate he left a message or a note," said Utah Corrections spokesman Jack Ford.
Prison officials made personal contact with Worthington during 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. prison counts, Ford said. Investigators were questioning other inmates to see if Worthington had spoken with any of them through his cell door during the interim.
Ironically, attorneys for Worthington were scheduled Wednesday to make oral arguments before the Utah Court of Appeals to set aside his guilty pleas. Attorney Paul Gotay argued that he was not competent to plead guilty as part of a plea bargain.
"It doesn't surprise me that he would attempt to do it because I've been telling everybody I know . . . he was incompetent," Gotay said Friday. "I feel terrible about his losing his life in this manner. I wish he could have seen the outcome of this appeal because he could have got some good out of it."
Gotay said Worthington suffered from a bipolar mood disorder and was not capable of understanding what he was doing when he pleaded guilty to murder,eight counts of aggravated kidnapping and one count of aggravated burglary. Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in exchange for his pleas.
"You get him on a good day and he'll plead to anything," Gotay said.
Prosecutor Greg Skordas said the timing of Worthington's suicide surprised him because of next week's hearing, but he is not surprised Worthington killed himself.
"He always said there was no way he was going to serve 35 years. It always seemed one way or another he was going to get out of it," Skordas said.
Just before midnight on Sept 20, 1991, Worthington stormed Alta View Hospital armed with guns and explosives and demanded to see a doctor who had performed a tubal ligation on his wife two years earlier. He shot and killed nurse Karla Roth in the parking lot, then re-entered the hospital and held eight people, including newborn babies, hostage in the Women's Center.
The ordeal ended 18 hours later when Worthington released the hostages and surrendered.
Worthington had made suicide and escape attempts in the Salt Lake County Jail and twice while at the Utah State Prison. "He was a constant problem. He continued to tell all the other inmates he wasn't a criminal . . . and was better than they were," Ford said.
"Inmates were beating him up on a regular basis because of his attitude."
Worthington was transferred to the New Mexico prison system but caused problems there, too. He was eventually transferred to all four of that state's facilities because of suicide attempts and other problems. Just before he was about to be transferred to the Nevada corrections system, he fell from the top of a fence during an escape attempt and broke both of his legs.
Worthington was transferred to Nevada on Oct. 26, but had only been at Ely State Prison since Monday, Ford said. He apparently tied shoe strings to holes in a speaker in his cell, then tore his bed sheet and attached it to the shoe strings. Investigators believe he tied the sheet around his neck and jumped off of the toilet in his cell.
Third District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez, who was Worthington's defense attorney, said he, too, expected to someday hear about Worthington's suicide.
"It did not surprise me. I was involved with his life and case for seven months, night and day. It saddens me, because I knew Rick on a personal level."
Valdez said Worthington often gave him "goodbye messages" to convey to his family. "One of his biggest regrets is that they didn't kill him at Alta View Hospital," he said, adding that Worthington was never prepared to serve his life in prison.
"I think he really did lose his will to live early on," Valdez said.
"If there's a light or something positive about it, it's that his family doesn't have to do time with him."