RALEIGH — The cause of death has been released for an inmate convicted of killing a former Mount Airy police officer, and officials say it did not involve a typical self-inflicted means.
Autopsy results show that Scott Vincent Sica, 40, who was serving a life sentence for the 1996 execution-style slaying of Sgt. Gregory Keith Martin, then of the Jonesville Police Department, died on April 19 due to a condition known as autoerotic asphyxiation.
It is defined as the intentional restriction of oxygen to the brain for the purposes of sexual arousal, which can lead to accidental strangulation — and as a cause of death represents a bit of a first in the state prison system, an official confirmed Wednesday.
“I think this is the first one I’ve heard,” said Pamela Walker, communications director for the N.C. Department of Public Safety, an umbrella agency for the correctional division. Walker has held that position since 2001.
Sica, a Florida resident who had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in March 2014 in the slaying of Martin, was incarcerated in the Scotland Correctional Institution in Laurinburg when he died on April 19. Prison officials reported at the time that he was discovered unresponsive in his cell that morning, under a scenario indicating he might have committed suicide.
The inmate reportedly was found hanging in his prison cell, in a kneeling position with a shoelace looped around his neck which was attached to a metal hook. Also discovered was another string with a noose which was broken, along with a bottle of lotion on the floor and a magazine covering the window to the cell containing a photograph a woman in a bathing suit.
Sica also had cord-like abrasions on his neck, and paramedics unsuccessfully attempted to revive him after Sica was found unresponsive.
Walker, the Department of Public Safety/prison spokesperson, said Wednesday that Sica basically was a model prisoner after being incarcerated in March 2014 on a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
“It looks like he had one infraction on his record and it was dismissed,” she said.
All inmates at Scotland Correctional Institution are housed in single cells, with Sica alone at the time of death, and nothing has emerged to indicate that he had been threatened or intended to take his own life.
Sica was being held in “close custody,” the highest-level classification, for those considered at greatest risk, Walker said. This includes regular rotations by prison guards to monitor such prisoners.
“Yes, there are periodic rounds and checks on the inmates,” Walker said, while acknowledging the difficulty in monitoring all their activities around the clock.
Sica’s guilty plea in the death of Sgt. Greg Martin, who earlier served with the Mount Airy Police Department and was a married father of three, capped an intense “cold case” investigation to track down the officer’s killer.
Martin had stopped a suspicious vehicle on Interstate 77 on the night of Oct. 5, 1996, shortly before 3 a.m. Sica, then 20, and two other individuals had been on what authorities at the time called a “multi-state robbing spree,” and Martin saw the red pickup two of them were in, Sica in the passenger seat and Brian Eugene Whittaker driving.
The Jonesville officer called for assistance at 2:43 a.m., and Trooper Vann Tate of the N.C. Highway Patrol subsequently arrived on the scene to find Martin on the ground with gunshot wounds to the head.
Testimony at his trial indicated that Sica fired a 9mm handgun nine times — with five bullets striking Martin in the head and a sixth grazing him.
Police were left with few leads in the case until 2012, when a relative of Marc Peterson Oldroyd, the third man in the crime spree, contacted the FBI after she saw the crime profiled on the television show “America’s Most Wanted.”
That tip tied in with work done by investigators, and led to the arrest of the trio. The other two men were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 to 17 years.
As many as 1,000 Americans are said to die each year from autoerotic asphyxiation, and that has included some residents of Surry County, an official says.
“It’s not that often, but we have had several cases over the years,” Surry Emergency Services Director John Shelton said Wednesday.
He said those incidents have been spread out, not indicative of a trend.
Most of those deaths have occurred in confined or secluded spaces — “in a closet or somewhere like that,” Shelton added.
High-profile deaths attributed to autoerotic asphyxiation have included those of actor David Carradine and Michael Hutchence of the rock band INXS.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.