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Triple murder suspect Meng-Ju Wu's letters don't explain his suicide

Triple murder suspect Meng-Ju Wu's letters don't explain his suicide

Meng-Ju Wu wrote several letters in the days before his suicide, but they didn't include a confession or explanation for killing himself, his lawyer said.

Wu had been in the Dane County Jail since Nov. 3, 2003, accused of a triple homicide and awaiting a trial which was to have started last Tuesday.

He died between 12:05 and 12:55 a.m. Monday after hanging himself with a strip of fabric from a sheet or pillowcase tied to a sprinkler head inside his cell.

The letters, written in Chinese and addressed to family members and friends, were opened by Wu's attorneys, Hal Harlowe and Stephen Hurley, said Dane County sheriff's spokeswoman Elise Schaffer. Some letters were already in the jail's mail system but were collected by officials before they were sent out. Others were found in his cell.

Wu's attorneys read the letters before handing them over to the Sheriff's Office for their investigation, she said.

Harlowe said the letters didn't give clues as to Wu's reasons for killing himself.

"They were thoughtful, sweet notes acknowledging people's contributions to him during his life," Harlowe said. "They provided no insight at all into what was motivating him."

Wu did not complain of mistreatment while in jail, he said, nor did he indicate that others were involved in his death.

Harlowe said Wu's letters implied, but did not say explicitly, that he intended to commit suicide. He would not describe details of the letters' content.

Jail staff open letters coming in to inmates, except legal papers. They do not open outgoing letters, Lt. Mark Twombly said.

The Dane County Coroner's Office completed an autopsy but has yet to close its file on Wu's death. Coroner John Stanley said he's waiting for the sheriff's investigation report that will include information such as mental health reports, medical records and visitor logs before closing the file.

The Sheriff's Office is not saying if it figured out how Wu managed to tie the fabric strip to the sprinkler head, which was designed to prevent its use in suicides.

Wu had been on suicide watch twice before but was not being watched when he killed himself.

In early November, he was placed in segregation for three weeks in order to be watched more carefully after a strip of fabric was found in his cell block, Schaffer said.

Wu said then that the fabric wasn't stashed in order to kill himself. Schaffer said such devices are also used to pass items to other inmates or could be used to disable deputies.

Wu was taken off suicide watch after three weeks at the advice of mental health staff who had interviewed him. Schaffer did not know how many times they had seen Wu.

In November 2003, when he was extradited here from New York, Wu was placed on watch as a matter of routine protocol due to the seriousness of his charges.

Wu had been charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the killings of Jason McGuigan, 28, Dustin Wilson, 17, and Daniel Swanson, 25. The three were shot to death June 26, 2003, in a Verona apartment.

Wu, known as "Mark," was a Taiwan national sent by his parents to school in the United States. He attended high school in Delaware. He was a UW-Madison sophomore at the time of the shootings.

"Mark was a quiet, very, very intelligent, introspective and apparently gentle young man," Harlowe said.

Wu's parents, Chao Shih and Lilan Wu, live in Taipei. They are arranging to hold his funeral there, Harlowe said. The impact of their son's death has been nearly unbearable for them, he said.

"Imagine," Harlowe said, "they sent their son here for a better life, and this is how he comes back to them."

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