updated 10/6/2007 8:28:26 AM ET 2007-10-06T12:28:26

A federal prosecutor from Florida accused of flying to Detroit last month to molest a 5-year-old girl committed suicide in his cell Friday in federal prison, authorities said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John D.R. Atchison was found unresponsive, taken to a hospital and pronounced dead, said Felicia Ponce, spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington. A previous suicide attempt was foiled in September, according to authorities.

Atchison was being held in a special housing unit in the prison in Milan, about 36 miles southwest of Detroit.

The administrative detention area houses all levels of prisoners, and Atchison had a cell to himself, Ponce said.

She declined to say how Atchison killed himself or whether he was on suicide watch, saying the death was being investigated.

Atchison, 53, was arrested last month at Detroit Metropolitan Airport after weeks of Internet conversations between the prosecutor and a detective posing as the mother of a 5-year-old girl, authorities have said.

Carried presents for girl
He was carrying presents for the girl, including a doll and hoop earrings, and also had sexual materials, including petroleum jelly.

After his arrest Atchison was placed on suicide watch, but it was lifted at the request of the defense, after Atchison assured a U.S. magistrate he wouldn't harm himself.

Two days later, Atchison used a sheet in his Sanilac County jail cell to try to hang himself around 4 a.m. Another inmate yelled out to jailers, who kept Atchison from hurting himself, according to Sanilac County Sheriff Virgil Strickler. Atchison was later moved to the Milan prison.

Atchison, a married father of three, was an assistant U.S. attorney in northern Florida, based in Pensacola. Gulf Breeze, Fla., residents have described him as a respected figure who coached girls' softball and basketball in a park a few blocks from his home.

A statement released Friday by his lawyer, James Thomas, said Atchison had "done a lot of good in his life."

"Unfortunately, he is going to be judged by his most recent charges and what we have read in the media, and not by the goodness, hard work or by the love of his family," the statement read.

The statement also said Thomas would file a request to have the case dismissed.

Authorities have said they found no cases of child molestation in Florida involving Atchison, who worked mostly on tax and financial crime cases.

The prosecutor had been charged with three felonies. The most serious charge was crossing state lines with intent to have sex with someone younger than 12. Conviction carries a minimum 30-year prison sentence and a maximum of life.

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