Eric Snow died as he had lived since he was charged with murder in 2007: alone in his jail cell.
But in the weeks before his apparent suicide Saturday, Snow pleaded with Plymouth jail officials to free him from more than four years “in the hole.’’
“All I want is to please be able to live in regular population where I’m not confined to a cell for five days a week losing my mind,’’ he wrote Feb. 27 to the jail’s security director.
Snow, one of two men accused of bludgeoning two homeless men to death in Hingham in 2005, had spent more than four years in isolation, his lawyer said.
In a series of grievances filed with jail officials and provided to the Globe by his lawyer, Snow expressed growing desperation.
“I have been in the hole for so long it is eating me alive,’’ he wrote Feb. 26.
His grievance was denied by a jail official, with the comment “your classification is dictated by your behavior.’’
It was unclear Monday what that behavior was or why the grievances were denied. A spokesman for the Plymouth County Correctional Facility, which houses approximately 1,650 inmates, would not comment on Snow’s confinement Monday and instead referred questions to the Plymouth County district attorney’s office, which is investigating Snow’s death.
Advocates for inmates said they had rarely heard of such prolonged separate confinement, and said Snow’s suicide was a predictable outcome of such seclusion.
“That’s an extraordinarily long time,’’ said Jim Pingeon, litigation director of Prisoners’ Legal Services. “Isolation can put people at high risk for hurting themselves. It can have a devastating psychological impact.’’
Pingeon said it was very rare for prisoners, even those who had harmed a corrections officer or inmate, to be held in segregation for more than a year.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,’’ said Gerald FitzGerald, Snow’s attorney. “He was deteriorating rapidly, mentally, emotionally, and physically. But they flatly denied our requests.’’
“There are people with much worse records in the general population,’’ FitzGerald said.
Snow’s trial on murder charges was scheduled to begin this spring. Snow, 30, and James Winquist are accused of killing William Chrapan, 44, and David Lyon, 46. Their bodies were found in an abandoned military bunker near Bare Cove Park.
The district attorney’s office is awaiting toxicology tests before determining the cause of Snow’s death, but said there is no indication of foul play. He was found Saturday with a plastic bag over his head and was taken to Jordan Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Snow, who went by the nickname “Killa,’’ had a lengthy criminal history and ties to white supremacists.
FitzGerald had tried unsuccessfully to have the charges dismissed. The case had been delayed because of legal challenges.
Even as the scheduled trial date neared, FitzGerald said Snow’s psychological troubles seemed to deepen. During a visit to the jail Thursday, FitzGerald said, he had noticed Snow had lost weight and seemed particularly agitated. “He was very distressed about his ability to cope with the situation,’’ he said.
Rick Glassman, litigation director of the Disability Law Center, said that solitary confinement is often crushing to those with mental illness. A federal judge, he said, has likened it to putting “an asthmatic in a room without air.’’
The law center and state have recently struck an agreement to improve care for prisoners with severe mental illnesses, Glassman said. The state Department of Correction has also promised to develop procedures for screening and evaluation of inmates in segregation units. The department reported 15 inmate suicides from 2005 to 2007.
Diane Wiffin, a spokeswoman for the state Correction Department, said segregated confinements are subject to strict guidelines that give inmates time for recreation and provide regular mental health screenings.
“It’s not solitary confinement,’’ she said. Under the regulations, inmates are allowed one hour of exercise per day outside their cells, unless security or safety considerations dictate otherwise.
The status of prisoners in segregated confinement is reviewed within 72 hours, she said. It is then reviewed every week for the first two months, then monthly.
County jails, such as the Plymouth facility, which are overseen by local sheriff’s departments, are not subject to these regulations.
Pingeon said segregations should be strictly limited because of the danger they can pose, and the often limited mental health resources available to prisoners.
“They are often overwhelmed with the volume,’’ he said. “There should be careful assessments at regular intervals, but they just don’t have the time.’’