Richard Alvin Ausley, a serial child molester whose brutal crimes led to a Virginia law that allows the state to hold some violent sex offenders indefinitely, has been slain in his prison cell, officials said yesterday.

Ausley, 64, was found dead between 10:30 and 11 p.m. Tuesday at Sussex I Prison in Waverly, Va., Department of Corrections officials said. An autopsy conducted yesterday showed that Ausley was strangled and suffered blunt trauma to the torso, said Evelyn Henson, a district administrator for the Virginia medical examiner's office in Richmond.

In 1973, Ausley abducted 13-year-old Paul Martin Andrews, chained the boy inside a plywood box he had buried in the woods and sexually assaulted him at least twice each day for eight days. The boy ultimately forced the box open slightly and yelled for help, and he was rescued by hunters.

Andrews, who last year successfully lobbied Virginia lawmakers to fund a program that allows the state to seek civil commitment of sex offenders after they serve their prison terms, said yesterday he was shaken by the news of Ausley's death.

"I'm still very conflicted, and I'm trying to come to terms with it," Andrews, a computer programmer, said from his Miami home. "I did what I did to keep him off the street. Nobody deserves to be murdered."

Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said that investigators were examining evidence and conducting interviews and that no charges had been filed. He said Ausley, whose body was found by a prison employee, shared a cell with another inmate.

Ausley was transferred to Sussex I on Nov. 14, Traylor said. He previously had been held at the Brunswick Correctional Center in Lawrenceville.

Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R), who had sought to institutionalize Ausley after his prison sentence was completed, said Ausley was a "horrible individual that committed horrible crimes."

"The Department of Corrections has indicated that they are doing a full investigation," Kilgore said. "If that investigation uncovers the fact that it's a murder, then we have a duty to prosecute that inmate for murder."

Ausley's extensive criminal record dates to at least 1961, when he was convicted of abduction and kidnapping in Suffolk Circuit Court. According to court records, Ausley went to a recreation center one afternoon and asked a 10-year-old boy to help him fix his car. Ausley drove the boy to a secluded area and sodomized him.

In August, nearing his parole date after serving 30 years for abducting and raping Andrews, Ausley was convicted of molesting a teenage boy in 1972. That victim had not reported the crimes for decades but came forward at Andrews's urging.

Last year, Ausley became one of the first sex offenders whom Kilgore sought to confine after his release from prison. A judge dismissed the request after Ausley was sentenced to an additional five years for molesting the teenager in 1972.

Virginia is among about a dozen states that have enacted commitment laws for sex offenders. The Sexually Violent Predators Act was passed in 1999 but was not funded until last year's General Assembly session.

Under the controversial program, those committed to an institution are held indefinitely, subject to a recommendation by a doctor and a decision by a judge. Supporters say the program is the only way to keep the community safe from repeat offenders; critics worry it will become a way to warehouse violent criminals even after they have paid their debt to society.

So far, Kilgore's office has filed petitions to civilly commit 21 convicted sex offenders, according to Tim Murtaugh, the attorney general's spokesman.

Murtaugh said that in the other 20 cases, two offenders have been institutionalized under the statute and one was released but was ordered to abide by certain restrictions, including counseling.

In another case, Murtaugh said, a judge determined that the inmate was not a sexually violent predator. Sixteen other cases are pending.

Staff writer Michael D. Shear in Richmond and researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.