and White and Dead All Over: The Lucasville Insurrection
In April 1993, an inmate rebellion
broke out at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in
Lucasville, Ohio, near Cincinnati. Nine prisoners and one correctional
officer were killed during the 11-day uprising.
In court proceedings following the end
of the riot, five inmates were sentenced to death and are presently
on death row at Mansfield Correctional Institution. They are:
Siddique Abdullah Hasan (formerly known as Carlos Sanders), Namir
Abdul Mateen (formerly known as James Were), Keith Lamar, Jason
Robb, and George Skatzes. Hasan, Mateen, and Lamar are black.
Hasan and Mateen are Sunni Muslims. Robb and Skatzes are white
and are members of the Aryan Brotherhood.
- I. Anatomy
of an Uprising
- II. A
Riot, a Race Riot, or a Black-and-White Insurrection?
- III. A
Travesty of Justice
- IV. On
- V. Epilogue
III. A Travesty of Justice
On February 3, 1997, the House
of Delegates of the American Bar Association voted 280 to 119
to urge Congress and state legislatures to declare a moratorium
on the death penalty.
The ABA calls for implementation of previously-adopted
policies intended to "minimize the risk that innocent persons
may be executed." These policies include: (1) Competent
counsel for all defendants in capital cases; (2) Availability
of Federal court review of state prosecutions; (3) Elimination
of discrimination in death sentencing on the basis of the race
of either the victim or the defendant; (4) No execution of mentally
retarded defendants or defendants under 18 at the time their
crimes were committed.
The ABA House of Delegates acted on the
basis of a Report by its Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities.
Referring to the four previously-adopted policies listed above,
the Report states that "the federal and state governments
have been moving in a direction contrary to these policies,"
for example by ending Federal funding for lawyers helping death
row inmates to pursue appeals. According to the Report, "fundamental
due process is now systematically lacking in capital cases."
It characterizes present administration of the death penalty
as "a haphazard maze of unfair practices."
The trials of the Lucasville Five were
just such "haphazard maze[s] of unfair practices" as
the ABA condemns.
These unfair practices included the following:
- Attorney Niki Schwartz of Cleveland,
who helped to negotiate the settlement that ended the uprising,
has denounced the criminal prosecutions of participants in the
rebellion as a travesty of justice. According to Schwartz the
prosecutions violated point 2 of the settlement, which said that
"criminal proceedings will be fairly and impartially administered
without bias against individuals or groups."
Schwartz has asserted in a letter to Chief
Justice Thomas Moyer of the Ohio Supreme Court and in testimony
under oath in the trial of Jason Robb that Special Prosecutor
Piepmeier successfully aborted efforts by the inmates to obtain
counsel during the investigative stage of the proceedings. Schwartz
states that Piepmeier told him that if the inmates had counsel
prior to indictment they would not incriminate themselves.
According to Schwartz, after the Ohio
State Bar Association, the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense
Lawyers, and the Ohio Public Defender Commission recruited and
held training seminars for over 200 volunteer lawyers to provide
individual representation to the inmates targeted for criminal
charges, the Special Prosecutor blocked appointment of many of
the volunteer lawyers, and through ex parte contacts with the
judges persuaded them to appoint lawyers for the inmates selected
and approved by the Special Prosecutor.
- Millions of dollars were provided to
the prosecution, while the inmates' defense was starved for funds.
According to an article co-authored by Reginald Wilkinson, Director,
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction: "Over
1,250 interviews were conducted. Investigators received on-the-job
training from FBI forensics experts. More than 4,000 items were
tagged as evidence. A special computer program using over 1,000
megabytes of memory was developed to store and retrieve data
on crime witnesses, locations, and events." ("After
the Storm," Corrections Management Quarterly, 1997, pp.
20-21.) An article in the Columbus Dispatch, Apr. 6, 1997, based
on "state records," summarizes the money made available
by the State of Ohio to the prosecution and the defense in the
Lucasville criminal cases as follows:
- Criminal prosecution $1.4 million
- State Highway Patrol investigation $1.3
- Total $2.7 million
- Defense attorneys, investigators, expert
- Thus the state's own figures show that
three times as much was spent on the prosecution as on the defense.
- The prosecution conceded that there was
no physical evidence linking any of the defendants to the murders
and kidnap- pings with which they were charged. The allegations
against the defendants rested altogether on the testimony of
guards and other inmates. In the case of George Skatzes, the
Ohio State Highway Patrol pressured him to cooperate with them,
that is, to inform ("snitch"). They said they would
indict Skatzes for only one murder if he would testify against
other defendants. Skatzes told the prosecution that he could
not help them. The next time the authorities came to see Skatzes,
they told him that this was his last chance, that if he would
not help them he would be indicted for three murders. Skatzes
once again refused to plea bargain. The prosecution did exactly
what it had threatened.
The testimony that caused the Lucasville
Five to be convicted came from inmates who had themselves helped
to kill the victims about whom they were questioned, but had
entered into plea bargains. A statement to the press by Special
Prosecutor Piepmeier indicates that thirteen months into the
investigation, Anthony Lavelle, leader of the Black Gangster
Disciples, agreed to cooperate with the authorities. (Cincinnati
Post, Apr. 6, 1996.) Robert Brookover testified that he had killed
David Sommers (Skatzes trial transcript, pp. 3668-69) but he
received no additional time as a result of the Lucasville riot.
Many of the witnesses conceded that their testimony at trial
contradicted their initial sworn statements to the authorities.
In many instances, their testimony was inconsistent with the
testimony of other witnesses.
- The prosecution was permitted to question
witnesses at length about events that occurred after the riot
as well as about horrendous murders and beatings with which the
defendants on trial for their lives were not charged and in which
they were not involved. Inevitably this prejudiced the minds
of the jury.
Robb and Skatzes are white and the men
they were charged with helping to murder (Vallandingham, Sommers,
and in the case of Skatzes, Elder) were also white. Yet the prosecution
was allowed to spread on the record the facts that Robb and Skatzes
were leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood and that many members of
the Brotherhood are hostile to blacks and Jews. This must have
had a prejudicial impact on the jurors, and may have been unlawful
under the holding of the Supreme Court of the United States in
Dawson v. Delaware, 503 U.S. 159 (1992).
- The prosecution's theory as to the defendants
was essentially that they were leaders, and therefore responsible
for anything that happened during the riot. Inmate Johnny Fryman
was so badly beaten and stabbed at the beginning of the rebellion
that witness after witness who saw his body lying in a pool of
blood assumed that he was dead. After the surrender, the Ohio
State Highway Patrol told Fryman, "we don't care how we
have to do it, we want Robb, Hasan and Skatzes . . . . Give us
those three." Special Prosecutor Piepmeier told him, "We're
able to make any kind of deal you want." (Interview notes
of Attorney Jeffrey Kelleher, Sept.30, 1995.) Reginald Wilkinson,
ODRC Director, later wrote:
[T]he key to winning convictions
was eroding the loyalty and fear inmates felt toward their gangs.
To do this, [Piepmeier's] staff targeted a few gang leaders and
convinced them to accept plea bargains. Thirteen months into
the investigation, a primary riot provocateur agreed to talk
about Officer Vallandingham's death. He later received a sentence
of 7 to 25 years after pleading guily to conspiracy to commit
murder. His testimony led to death sentences for Carlos Sanders,
Jason Robb, George Skatzes, and George Were. ("After the
Storm," p. 21.)
- I. Anatomy
of an Uprising
- II. A Riot,
A Race Riot, or a Black-and-White Insurrection?
- III. A Travesty
- IV. On Death
- V. Epilogue
from RACE TRAITOR
#8, Winter 1998