Police have confirmed that a body found engulfed in flames in a dirt field in San Diego is that of Aijalon Mahil Gomes.
An off-duty California Highway Patrol officer found the former teacher on fire on Friday night and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
He was also said to have committed an unidentified “hostile act” and was sentenced to eight years hard labour and fined around $600,000.
An investigation has now been launched into Mr Gomes’ death but police say foul play is not suspected.
“The preliminary investigation indicates the death is not a homicide but rather an accidental death or a suicide,” said San Diego police homicide lieutenant Todd Griffin in a statement.
“A final determination cannot be made until the Medical Examiner’s Office completes its investigation.”
The Boston native had been living in South Korea before his 2010 arrest, where he taught English and regularly attended the Every Nation Church in Seoul.
It has long been thought that Mr Gomes crossed into North Korea to act as a missionary, following in the footsteps at another worshiper from the same church.
Korean-American Robert Park entered the country one month before Mr Gomes did. He was also captured but released after being detained for six weeks.
But in a rare interview with website Charon QC in 2015, Mr Gomes said he had been inspired to enter North Korea to teach after hearing racist comments made about the country by women in South Korea.
“One day while socialising with a group of Korean/American women after church one woman said, ‘There is only one Korea – South Korea. North Koreans are not Koreans,’” he told Charon QC.
“I was shocked and deeply hurt and offended. For me it brought up thoughts about racism, segregation and the condition of race inequality in America.
“I decided that after I taught English in the South, I would find a way to teach the children in the North as well.”
According to his 2015 memoir Violence and Humanity, Mr Gomes crossed the border into North Korea by walking across a frozen stretch of the Tumen River, before being immediately apprehended.
Mr Gomes believed he was being used as a pawn by the North Koreans as tensions escalated between Washington and Pyongyang over the sinking of Cheonan, a South Korean warship.
North Korean state media KCNA threatened “harsher punishment” and “wartime law” against Mr Gomes if the Americans persisted in its “hostile approach” towards the sinking of the ship.
An international inquiry found that a North Korean torpedo had sunk the Cheonan, killing 46 South Korean sailors, but Pyongyang rejected the claims and threatened war of UN sanctions were imposed.
“I was disappointed and disgusted at being used as a paw or for leverage for political gain by ‘powers-at-large,’” he told Charon QC.
Headlines in 2010 were also dominated by speculation as to whether Mr Carter had met with then-leader Kim Jong-il.
At the time, the country’s reclusive leader was caught up in political manoeuvres to try and secure the succession of his youngest son, and current leader, Kim Jong-un.
KCNA reported that the elder Kim had “leniently granted” Mr Carter’s request to release Mr Gomes but denied that he had been granted an audience with the leader.
Mr Carter is instead said to have met Kim Yong-nam, at the time one of Pyongyang’s top officials, and Kim Gye-gwan, who was the country’s chief nuclear negotiator.
North Korean media also claimed that Mr Gomes made a suicide attempt in July 2010 while he was still in custody.
Mr Gomes confirmed these claims in the 2015 Charon QC interview saying he attributes his survival to God’s will.
“With the amount of blood I lost, my less than average physique and the pain, I can’t really give you a sensible account of how I survived,” he said.
Mr Gomes also revealed in the interview that he experienced issues with anxiety because of the ordeal which had made him “mostly a recluse”.
“Of course I have setbacks and frustrations. At first, absolutely no one in my family reached out to hear my story,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say I am famous and really don’t have any desire to be. I would just like to live my life peacefully and help people any way I can.”
This week The New York Times reported that Mr Gomes’ mother Jacqueline McCarthy had confirmed to a local news station that her son had just moved to San Diego from Boston, but that she had asked for privacy as the family dealt with the death.
If the San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office concludes that Mr Gomes’ death is a suicide he will be the second American to have killed themselves after being released from a North Korean prison.
Evan Hunziker, who was the first American to be arrested by North Korea on espionage charges since the end of the Korean War, spent three months in custody in 1996 after entering the country by swimming across the Yalu River from China.
However, he committed suicide less than a month after his return, which his father attributed to a fear of going back to jail.
There are currently three Americans being detained by North Korea – Kim Dong Chul who is being held on espionage charges, Kim Sang-duk who is being held for committing “hostile criminal acts”, and Kim Hak-Song who is being held on suspicion of “hostile acts”.
However this week relations between North Korea and America reached a new boiling point after president Donald Trump decided to label the country a state sponsor of terror.
The move triggered sanctions including restrictions on US foreign assistance and a ban on defence exports and sales.
North Korea labelled is a “serious provocation and violent infringement” against the regime, now under the control of Kim Jong-un.