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The Lucasville Uprising: New DiscoveriesGreg Curry
By Staughton Lynd,
Feb. 27, 2006

In August 2004, I reported on eight years of inquiry into the events of April 11-21, 1993, at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, in a book entitled Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising, published by Temple University Press.

Among the conclusions of that book were the following:

First, there was no physical evidence to link any particular prisoner or prisoners with the murder of any of the nine prisoners who were killed during the eleven days, or with the murder of hostage correctional officer Robert Vallandingham. There were no fingerprints, no DNA. Convictions were based almost entirely on the testimony of prisoners who traded their trial testimony for letters to the parole board, concurrent rather than consecutive sentences, reduced charges, and in some cases, no charges at all.

Further, the four prisoner spokespersons who were convicted of murdering Officer Vallandingham were not guilty. (The four are Siddique Abdullah Hasan f.k.a. Carlos Sanders, Jason Robb, George Skatzes, and Namir Abdul Mateen a.k.a. James Were.)

The State put in evidence an audiotape made by the F.B.I. which indicated that these four and others discussed the possibility of killing a hostage officer at a meeting on the morning of April 15. But testimony of the State's star informant and a transcript of the F.B.I. tape show that the meeting came to no decision. Rather, the murder of Officer Vallandingham later that morning was a rogue action carried out by members of a group called the Black Gangster Disciples under the leadership of a prisoner named Anthony Lavelle.

Finally, the State contributed to the tragic sequence of events. The warden refused to consider TB testing by means other than injection under the skin. After the disturbance began, the authorities deliberately dragged out negotiations in the mistaken belief that stalling would save lives. On the morning of April 14, a spokesperson for the State named Tessa Unwin made an unfortunate statement to the media that the demands and threats of the prisoners in rebellion were merely the "language of negotiations," which some prisoners, listening on battery-powered radios, understood to mean that the State did not take them seriously. Finally, the refusal of prison negotiators to reconsider their decision to turn off water and electricity in the occupied cell block was a proximate cause of Officer Vallandingham's death.

After the Attica disturbance in 1971, New York Governor Hugh Carey ordered amnesty for all persons accused of misconduct, including a prisoner who had already been convicted of murdering an officer. I concluded that Ohio should follow the example of New York and declare a general amnesty for all Lucasville-related crimes.

In what follows I report on some discoveries since the publication of my book. These new findings include:

1. Scioto County residents who signed petitions urging the death penalty for Lucasville defendants were permitted to become jurors and witnesses;
2. Prosecutors coerced witnesses to say what the State wanted them to say, called witnesses whose testimony they knew or should have known to be false, and sought conviction of more than one person for single acts such as shattering a man's skull with one swing of a baseball bat;
3. Elected judges on the Ohio Supreme Court have blatantly revealed their bias, one of them by publicizing a belief that Lucasville defendants deserve the death sentence when these convictions are still on appeal.

These findings demonstrate grave miscarriage of justice in the Lucasville judicial proceedings considered as a whole. The defense bar and the media must move beyond a focus on individual cases. All phases of these proceedings are so flawed as to require the conclusion that the verdicts and sentences of all Lucasville defendants should be set aside. Lucasville defendants, having served all or most of the past 13 years in solitary confinement, should be granted a general amnesty.

Beverly Taylor's Death: A Plea for Open-Mindedness
I want to begin with a story that is not a finding or a conclusion. It is a plea for open-mindedness.
After publication of Lucasville I took the book wherever I could find an audience. One autumn day I found myself speaking to a small group in the branch campus of a state university in Camden, New Jersey, across the river from Philadelphia.

During the discussion after I finished, a woman spoke up. She said her husband was imprisoned at Lucasville in 1990, when an African American prisoner named Eddie Vaughn killed a Caucasian teacher named Beverly Taylor. The woman said her husband told her the generally accepted account was not right.
This comment caught my attention, because the murder of Beverly Taylor set in motion the process that led to rebellion three years later. The Southern Ohio Correctional Facility is located in an overwhelmingly white, culturally Appalachian part of Ohio, from which most of the prison's officers are recruited. The prisoners confined at SOCF were two-thirds African American. When Beverly Taylor was killed, outraged whites picketed the prison, demanding that the State cease to coddle prisoners they perceived as "the worst of the worst." A new warden was appointed who instituted what he called Operation Shakedown. He reduced programming, created a special mailbox for snitches, caused lines to be painted in the corridors and required prisoners to march to chow, forced black and white prisoners who hated one another to cell together, and overall, set the stage for insurrection.

Thus Ms. Taylor's death was a turning point. The generally accepted account of it goes like this: Mr. Vaughn was an educational aide to Ms. Taylor. He followed her into a women's rest room and tried to rape her. She called out, "No, no, no!" Before officers could break down the door, Mr. Vaughn cut her throat with the top of a metal can. How, one might wonder, could this received version of events not be right?

I told the woman in Camden where I would be speaking that evening and asked if her husband could come and talk to me. He did. He told me that no prisoners had witnessed the event but that the prisoners' grapevine reported the following: When the officers learned that Mr. Vaughn was in the rest room with Ms. Taylor, they jumped to the conclusion that he was raping her. Ms. Taylor called out to them that she had the situation under control. She said that she and Mr. Vaughn were sitting on the floor, talking. The officers began to break down the wooden door. It was then, according to my elderly black informant, that Mr. Vaughn, who grew up in northern Mississippi, panicked and grabbed Ms. Taylor as a hostage, holding the metal edge to her throat. Ms. Taylor cried "No, no, no!" but she was speaking not to Mr. Vaughn, but to the guards. She was begging them not to break down the door. The officers paid no attention and a terrified Mr. Vaughn cut Ms. Taylor's throat.

Again, I do not offer this story as a discovery. I do not know whether it is true. I have talked both to Ms. Taylor's husband and to Mr. Vaughn, who was sentenced to life imprisonment. When I got back to Ohio, I questioned two very experienced prisoners who had been at SOCF in 1990, one white, one black. Both confirmed that the prisoners' version of what happened is what I heard in Philadelphia. My reason for sharing this experience is to plead for your open-mindedness. Things may not always be what they seem, or what we have been told they are. I finally decided to tell you about this incident because of a story in the Akron Beacon Journal, Jan. 24, 2006. As in the murder of Beverly Taylor, some basic facts are not in doubt. James Trimble took Kent State student Sarah Positano hostage and shot her in the upstairs hallway of her Brimfield Township apartment. But, according to the paper:

By the early morning hours of Jan. 22, negotiations with Trimble had produced a deal. He would free Positano in two hours if police backed off. Minutes later, everything fell apart, Positano fatally wounded, the negotiations over. Despite hearing Positano scream over the phone, it would be more than seven hours before Metro SWAT entered the apartment.

What happened? asks the Beacon Journal. Mr. Trimble has rightly been held accountable for his role. But "[s]till unanswered is what part the activities of law enforcement officers on the scene may have contributed to the tragic turn of events." A police sniper may have been briefly in the apartment. There seem to be eight bullet holes and fragments in the apartment although the State claims that officers fired only two shots, both from the outside. "A more complete accounting of police actions is essential," concludes the Beacon Journal.

I invite you to join me in asking the same question about the trials of Lucasville defendants.
1. Scioto County residents who signed petitions urging the death penalty for Lucasville defendants were permitted to become jurors and witnesses.

A criminal trial begins by convening a grand jury, which decides whether to issue an indictment. Since the ten murders during the Lucasville disturbance took place in Scioto County a grand jury was convened there in the fall of 1993.

The office of the Public Defender was concerned about possible jury bias. As I describe in my book, a petition had circulated in southern Ohio that called for reinstituting the death penalty and for speeding up capital trials. Completed petitions were to be returned to Death Penalty, P.O. Box 1761, Portsmouth, Ohio. The Public Defender established that four of the persons in the "venire" for this first grand jury appeared to have signed the petition, and the last names of four others suggested that they might be relatives of signers. The Public Defender moved to have the grand jury dismissed for bias.

The Scioto County Court of Common Pleas denied the motion and found that the Public Defender had violated a court rule against frivolous pleadings. The executive director of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender was dismissed soon after.

My wife, Attorney Alice Lynd, has substantially completed the task that the Public Defender did not finish. She obtained copies of the petitions from the office of the Governor. There were more than 25,000 signatures on these documents, a majority from Scioto County. The names of the grand jurors who issued indictments for kidnapping, assault and murder have thus far not been disclosed to defense counsel. Accordingly, my wife and I assembled the names of trial jurors from the five trials that sentenced Lucasville defendants to death, and from an equal number of non-capital trials in Scioto County, Hamilton County (where Cincinnati is located) and Franklin County (which includes the city of Columbus). The names of petition signers were then compared with the names of these trial jurors. Professor Andrew Feight at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth doublechecked signatures and addresses against election records.

Briefly, the results are as follows. In each of two trials in Scioto County, State v. Scales and State v. Wells, two of twelve jurors appear to have signed petitions calling for the death penalty in Lucasville cases. Moreover, seven white correctional officers who had been held hostage appear to have signed petitions, four identifying themselves as "hostage" on the petition form. A number of these officers testified in the capital cases of Robb, Sanders and Skatzes in other Ohio counties. Additionally, former hostage Darrold Clark joined organizers of the petition in meeting with Governor Voinovich, on which occasion Clark advocated giving guns to guards at SOCF. "Shoot one of those suckers and they'll back off from a riot," Clark stated, as reported in the Cincinnati Post and Toledo Blade for June 9, 1993.

The resulting prejudice for Lucasville defendants is suggested by the trial of Orson Wells. Mr. Wells was convicted of kidnapping officers Clark, Fraley, and Hensley, and sentenced to 15 to 25 years on each count, the sentences to run consecutively. "Bill Bair" and "Tim Conley" signed the petitions prejudicial to Lucasville defendants, and "Bill Bair" and "Timothy R. Conley" were Wells jurors. All three witnesses for the State, Officers Clark, Fraley and Hensley, appear to have signed the petition: Clark and Hensley wrote "hostage" next to their signatures.

The testimony offered by these officers was sketchy. When first interviewed in May 1993, Officer Hensley identified five prisoners who had taken him hostage, but did not name Mr. Wells until November 1993, shortly before trial. State v. Wells, Transcript, pp. 516-17. Officer Clark stated that he had no recollection of seeing Mr. Wells at any time during the uprising. State v. Wells, Tr., p. 748.

Mr. Wells' principal defense was that he had helped to save the life of Officer Fraley by carrying him to the prisoners' makeshift infirmary, from where he was transported to safety. After Mr. Wells left the occupied cell block and was confined in K-side, two officers, one of them named Thomas Spradlin, came to Wells' cell specifically to thank him for what he had done to help Fraley. At trial, however, Officer Fraley testified for the prosecution and said that Wells had thrown him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, State v. Wells, Tr. p. 787; and Officer Spradlin, whom counsel for Mr. Wells called as a final defense witness, denied that Fraley had told him anything about Wells' assistance and said only that a "rumor" about Wells helping Fraley caused him to express some sort of thanks, State v. Wells, Tr. p. 1168. And a "Thomas Spradlin," it turns out, also signed the petition.

The correctional officers who testified against Wells for the prosecution had a natural authority as they spoke to friends and neighbors on the jury. Moreover, both prosecutors and the judge unlawfully engaged in what is known as "vouching," that is, telling the jury why these witnesses deserved to be believed.
To counter the correctional officers who testified for the prosecution, counsel for Orson Wells was obliged to rely primarily on prisoner witnesses. The judge permitted the prosecution on cross-examination to present two of these witnesses to the jury as the defendant's homosexual partners, or, as the prosecutor told the jury in closing argument, his prison "wives." Overall, this was not a judicial proceeding that should cause a man now 53 years old to spend the rest of his life inside prison walls.

In summary thus far, the Lucasville trials took place in southern Ohio communities that were saturated with hostility to the defendants. Inexplicably, at least two trials were permitted to take place in Portsmouth itself. At least four jurors in Scioto County trials appear to have signed the petition circulated from Death Penalty, Portsmouth, Ohio, as did hostage correctional officers who testified in a variety of trials in Scioto County and elsewhere.

2. Prosecutors coerced witnesses to say what the State wanted them to say, called witnesses whose testimony they knew or should have known to be false, and sought conviction of more than one person for single acts such as shattering a man's skull with one swing of a baseball bat.

Prosecutorial misconduct is the central fact about the Lucasville judicial proceedings. I do not point a finger at any particular person, but I do wish to spotlight a community, namely, Cincinnati. As I said in my book:

[T]he special prosecutor came from Hamilton County. . . . Cincinnati is the death penalty capital of Ohio. As of April 2003, Hamilton County had 7.3 percent of Ohio's population but accounted for almost a quarter of the men on Ohio's Death Row . . . . The Supreme Court of Ohio has rebuked Hamilton County prosecutors for prosecutorial misconduct in 14 death penalty cases over a 12-year period.

Professor James Liebman of Columbia University stated in testimony before the Criminal Justice Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives that Hamilton County has the seventh highest death-sentencing rate among populous counties in the United States, twice that of Cuyahoga County and nearly three times that of Franklin County. And 60 percent of the men on Death Row from Hamilton County are black. Lynd, Lucasville, pp. 95-96.

Prosecutorial misconduct extends far beyond the five Lucasville cases that ended in death sentences. Consider the life sentence received by African American prisoner Derek Cannon for allegedly murdering prisoner Darrell Depina on the first day of the uprising, April 11.

The State called as witnesses a State trooper who interviewed Mr. Cannon, and five prisoners. The defense, in the words of Innocence Project attorney Colin Starger, "called no fewer than twelve inmate witnesses who all corroborated Cannon's testimony that he was simply not involved. . . . All confirmed that Cannon did not enter the L-6 block where Depina was murdered during the uprising."

The prosecutor evidently felt that something more was needed to secure a conviction. He called as a rebuttal witness a man named Dwayne Buckley, released from imprisonment the day before he testified. Mr. Buckley said that he had been a porter in the Cincinnati jail where Mr. Cannon was confined awaiting trial. Cannon, Buckley testified, had confessed to torturing and killing Officer Vallandingham. And after Mr. Cannon was found guilty, the trial judge spoke to the jury and told defense counsel that, for the jurors, Mr. Buckley's testimony had been the most damning and persuasive.

Now first, Mr. Cannon was indicted for murdering Mr. Depina on April 11, not Officer Vallandingham on April 15. And second, Officer Vallandingham was killed in the occupied cell block and Mr. Cannon could not have been there on April 15. Official documents show that Cannon left the occupied cell block (L block) on April 11, was picked up on the yard and confined in K block early on April 12, and was taken to another prison on April 16. It was physically impossible for Buckley's testimony to be true, and it is inconceivable that the prosecutor did not know this when Buckley testified.

Judicial proceedings concerning prisoner spokesperson George Skatzes provide additional examples of prosecutorial misconduct. Skatzes was convicted of murdering three men -- prisoner Earl Elder, Officer Vallandingham, and prisoner David Sommers -- and received the death sentence for the murder of Elder and Sommers.

Concerning Mr. Elder, the undisputed facts are that when the disturbance broke out he took refuge in the L-2 stairwell together with Officer Ratcliff; that prisoners extracted him from this hiding place and beat him badly, then dragged him to a shower in L-6; and finally, that Elder was later transferred to cell L-6-60, where he died. Beyond these facts, accounts diverge.

According to the State, Skatzes and another prisoner named Rodger Snodgrass came to L-6-60 and Snodgrass, directed by Skatzes, entered the cell and stabbed Elder. I do not believe that Skatzes did anything of the kind. However, even if he did, Snodgrass himself testified that when he left L-6-60 Elder was not dead. Moreover, it is clear that the weapon Snodgrass used was a shank resembling an icepick, and the coroner testified that there were many puncture wounds in Elder's body of the sort that might be made by an icepick, but these were superficial and not lethal.

A recent confession by a prisoner I shall call Mr. X indicates that Elder was finally killed by prisoners who entered L-6-60 and finished off Elder with an improvised knife made from the broken mirror in the officers' restroom. Use of the shank described by Mr. X is consistent with the blade wounds that the coroner determined to be lethal, and with a fragment of glass that the coroner found in Mr. Elder's chest.

Based on this confession, the special prosecutor has indicted Mr. X for Elder's murder. But the prosecutor has apparently not credited the emphatic testimony of Mr. X, offered in a June 1998 affidavit, in his August 2000 confession, and in another affidavit of September 2003, that George Skatzes was never present and had nothing to do with Elder's murder. If Skatzes had been somehow involved with the actual killing of Elder along with Mr. X, one could understand why both would be indicted for murder. But since, according to the confession credited by the prosecution, Elder was killed by prisoners who had no connection with Skatzes when Skatzes was nowhere around, it follows that even if the earlier activity of Snodgrass occurred just as the prosecution asserts, the most Skatzes could be guilty of -- it would seem -- is attempted murder. And because all of Skatzes' alleged misconduct was tried in a single proceeding, the revelation that is credited by the prosecution as the basis for indictment of X would appear to require that Skatzes receive a new trial.

Skatzes' conviction for the murder of prisoner Sommers is equally suspect, and again in a way that prosecutors must have known. Assistant Special Prosecutor Hogan asserted in closing argument during the penalty phase of the Skatzes trial: "[T]hink about David Sommers, . . . the last of the three killings, the one where [Skatzes] wielded a bat and literally beat the brains out of this man's head." State v. Skatzes, Transcript, p. 6108. Yet during the penalty phase of the later trial of another prisoner, Aaron Jefferson, Assistant Special Prosecutor Charles Crowe told the jury:

If there was only one blow to the head of David Sommers, the strongest evidence you have [is that] this was the individual -- I won't call him a human -- this is the individual that administered the blow. . . . If there was only one blow, he's the one that gave it. He's the one that hit him like a steer going through the stockyard, the executioner with the pickaxe, trying to pick through the brain.

State v. Jefferson, Transcript, pp. 656-57.

Since publishing these facts in my book, I have learned that a third prisoner is also alleged to have struck that single fatal blow with the baseball bat which killed David Sommers. According to an official document, "On 02/06/96, the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court accepted [Jesse] Bocook's plea of Voluntary Manslaughter for killing inmate David Sommers with a baseball bat." Other documents state to the same effect that "inmate Bocook murdered inmate David Sommers," and "Bocook was involved with the killing of another inmate by beating him with a baseball bat." Three different men, Skatzes, Jefferson, and Bocook, could not have struck a single fatal blow with a baseball bat. Overzealous prosecutors nevertheless persuaded decisionmakers that each of the three defendants had struck the same fatal blow.

So in summary, exactly what am I charging as to prosecutorial misconduct? Portsmouth, Ohio is not the Deep South. There is no practice there of lynching the next African American male encountered as a vicarious scapegoat for the real or imagined insult to white womanhood inflicted by some other black man. But Portsmouth, Ohio, like other communities stretching along the north side of the Ohio River from Marietta, Ohio through Cincinnati and New Albany, Indiana (where my father grew up) all the way to Cairo, Illinois, is part of the Upper South. Portsmouth is an overwhelmingly white community with an Appalachian culture, embittered by the murders of Beverly Taylor and Robert Vallandingham, and by many other violent encounters between white officers and black prisoners over the years.

This social atmosphere is not the fault or creation of any particular person. But its effect is that after an event like the April 1993 rebellion the concern of citizens and prosecutors alike is that some prisoners should pay with their lives for what occurred. There is no question that Highway Patrolmen and prosecutors singled out the visible leaders and spokespersons for the prisoners -- especially Hasan, Skatzes, Robb and Lavelle -- and built cases against them. There is no question, indeed Director Wilkinson himself has said so, that the key step in the prosecutions was to induce Lavelle to turn State's evidence, and in my book I describe in detail the machinations that brought this about.

There is also no question that prisoner after prisoner was told, Either you testify under oath what we tell you or we will try you for murder, and that many of the informants thus procured were assembled at Oakwood Correctional Institution, the so-called "snitch academy," to coordinate their stories. You may find this hard to believe so let me give some examples.
On the first afternoon of the uprising, several prisoners generally considered to be snitches were locked up in L-6 for their own protection. Timothy Grinnell was convicted of using the console to open the doors of the cells in which five of these men were confined so that they could be beaten to death. Two of the witnesses against Mr. Grinnell were Eric Girdy and Kenneth Law. Girdy has stated under oath:

On or about August 15, 1993, the State Highway Patrol came to Lucasville prison to interview me about inmate Timothy Grinnell and his involvement in the homicides that occurred in L-6 cell block during the riot.
During the initial interview with the State Highway Patrol about Timothy Grinnell, I informed the Highway Patrol that Timothy Grinnell did not participate in the riot. . . .
On or about August 22, 1993, the State Highway Patreol came to Lucasville a second time . . . . Sgt. Howard Hudson and Special Prosecutor Mark E. Piepmeier stated to me that . . . if I did not cooperate with them fully they would indict me on six counts of aggravated murder and put me on Death Row.

Similarly Kenneth Law has stated under oath that prosecutor

Robert Piper told him that if he did not testify against Grinnell he would be tried for murder with death penalty specifications. "I feared going to death row for a crime I didn't do so I complied with prosecutor Piper and lied," Mr. Law states. Indeed, in a second affidavit, Kenneth Law states that he was also forced to testify against Sanders and Were (a.k.a. Hasan and Namir) in their trials for the murder of Officer Vallandingham.
[T]he prosecutor had a deal for me that would not really be any time if I testified aainst Hasan and Were. I feared of going to Death Row for something I did not do, so I agreed. I was interviewed several times before both trials and told what to say.

I have made these three affidavits available to the media.

What should we call this? Lynching? No. But might we say, sanitized lynching, late 20th century lynching, lynching lite, lynching not only of blacks but of whites so foolhardy as to make common cause with them? Listen to Keith Lamar, one of the five men condemned to death, describe the scene at his sentencing, by an all-white jury, in Lawrence County immediately east of Scioto County.

During the course of my trial, the courtroom remained virtually empty. However, when it came time for the judge to pronounce his sentence, it was standing room only; all of a sudden, I was surrounded by a sea of white people. Where did they come from? How did they know? I felt like I had been escorted back to the 1800s to witness a lynching, which is exactly what it was.

Keith Lamar, Condemned, p. 43.

3. Elected judges on the Ohio Supreme Court have blatantly revealed their bias, one of them by publicizing a belief that Lucasville defendants deserve the death sentence when these convictions are still on appeal.

I feel sure that many listeners or readers are thinking, "Well yes, we know about prosecutors. We have watched their misdeeds on shows like 'In Justice' or the PBS documentary 'The Case for Innocence.' But, thank goodness, we have impartial judges in this country to correct the prejudiced behavior of some juries and prosecutors."

Would it were so. In January 2005, Ohio Supreme Court justice Alice Resnick was arrested for drunk driving. The Associated Press reports that according to the transcript of the video taken from a patrol dashboard camera, Resnick told state troopers, "Don't you know I decide all these cases in your favor and look what you're doing to me."

I wish to describe the actions of another member of our state's highest court, Justice Paul Pfeifer, that violate the Codes of Judicial Conduct of the American Bar Association and of the Ohio bar, and dramatically prejudice Lucasville defendants. Again, despite appearances, my concern is not to attack an individual. The real problem is that the state court judges who decide whether capital defendants will live or die are elected, and make decisions, and in this case write newspaper columns, that will help them to be elected again.

It is Justice Pfeifer's practice to write newspaper columns about cases recently decided by the Ohio Supreme Court and to circulate the columns for publication all over Ohio. This practice is especially problematic in capital cases, because after the Ohio Supreme Court's decision on direct appeal of a conviction, the prisoner has two further appeals.

First, in what is called post-conviction review, the prisoner may bring to the attention of the same state courts that just decided his case on the basis of the trial record, facts outside the record such as the transcripts of later trials, the testimony of newly-discovered witnesses, or the results of a DNA test with more sophisticated technology than was available at time of trial. Such DNA evidence has already resulted in commutation of the death sentence for one Ohio prisoner, Jerome Campbell. Prosecutors told the jury that the spot of blood on Mr. Campbell's sneaker when arrested was the blood of his victim. Subsequent DNA testing with more up-to-date technology revealed that the blood, as Mr. Campbell always maintained, was his own.

The final post-trial appeal available to a death-sentenced prisoner is to federal court by means of a habeas corpus petition. Note that while a habeas appeal is to new judges, in federal court, the previous post-conviction appeal is to the same state court judges -- first in the trial court, then in the Ohio Supreme Court -- that have already considered and ruled on the outcome of the defendant's trial. Thus, a member of the Ohio Supreme Court who makes public comment on the result of a capital defendant's direct appeal may in future be asked to consider that defendant's appeal from an adverse post-conviction decision.

This is exactly the position in which Justice Pfeifer has placed himself.

On July 31, 2002, an item described as "Justice Paul E. Pfeifer's weekly column" was published summarizing the opinion of the Ohio Supreme Court in the case of Keith Lamar. Lamar's case was at the time and still is on further appeal.
On May 18, 2005, another column appeared summarizing the opinion of the high court, written by Pfeifer himself, in the case of George Skatzes. As an historian who has devoted uncounted hours to the analysis of the Skatzes trial record I was appalled by the so-called summary of facts that appeared, first in the court's opinion, and then in Pfeifer's newspaper column. There is not a single citation to the record in either the opinion or the column. Whoever compiled these alleged facts simply combed the transcript for every fragment of testimony damaging to Skatzes, without pausing to analyze the credibility of witnesses or other, conflicting evidence. For example, the purported facts include the testimony of prisoner Miles Hogan that on the evening of April 14 he heard Skatzes tell Sanders that Skatzes was ready to kill a guard if asked to do so. But the State's own transcripts of telephone negotiations demonstrate that throughout the entire evening Skatzes was on the phone with prison representative Burchett attempting to define first steps in a settlement process that would avoid further bloodshed.
And this is not the worst thing about Pfeifer's column. The column appeared in a newspaper called The Daily Reporter, published in Columbus, that describes itself as "the official newspaper of the Columbus Bar Association, the United States Circuit Court, United States District Court, Supreme Court of Ohio and all Courts of Record of Franklin County, Ohio": which is to say, the newspaper one must assume to be read by the judges of three courts -- the Ohio Supreme Court, the federal district court, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals -- to which Skatzes' case will in future be appealed. And this column, signed by Paul E. Pfeifer, is headlined "Ohio inmate deserves death for role in 1993 Lucasville riot."

It would be impossible to contrive a set of facts more flagrantly in violation of state and federal codes of judicial conduct. Canon 3 of the American Bar Association Code of Judicial Conduct deals with publicity while an appeal is pending. Paragraph A(6) states unambiguously:
A judge should abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court . . . .

Similarly, the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct as amended in 1997 states in Canon 3, Paragraph B(9):

While a proceeding is pending or impending in any court, a judge shall not make any public comment that might reasonably be expected to affect its outcome or impair its fairness . . . .

A Comment as to the meaning of this prohibition explains further:
"The requirement that judges abstain from public comment regarding a pending or impending proceeding continues during any appellate process and until final disposition."

I called all these things to Justice Pfeifer's attention in a 16-page, single-spaced letter dated May 24, 2005. At the same time I sent him a copy of my book. He has not responded.

Thus as citizens of Ohio we confront a problem parallel to that which we confront as citizens of the United States. The judges of the Ohio Supreme Court are the highest legal authority in Ohio. But, as the Romans said, Quis custodiet custodies? Who guards the guardians when the guardians show themselves to be untrustworthy? I believe that in a democratic society ultimate authority lodges in the people. When representatives, including elected judges, lose their way, you and I must step forward to set things right.

What can we do? The first step is to support State Representative Shirley Smith who, year after year, introduces legislation calling for a moratorium on executions. A moratorium means a pause. While we are killing John Byrd, J.D. Scott, Willie Williams, Glenn Benner, and John Spirko, one after the other, we cannot pretend to be thinking calmly and clearly about the administration of the death penalty in the State of Ohio. Let's stop the killing, create a process to assess our use of the death penalty, and try to talk to each other about these premeditated murders. Let's begin with a moratorium.

Backup materials:

PetitionsAL.pdf is a memo by Attorney Alice Lynd describing her research on the petitions, together with illustrative petitions and a trial jury venire, in pdf because the documents had to be scanned (yet to be updated);

StargerCannonMemo.doc is a memo in Word by Attorney Colin Starger of the New York Innocence Project on the trial and appeals of Derek Cannon;

PfeiferLetter.pdf is my 16-page single-spaced letter to Justice Pfeifer, detailing both his violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct and his misrepresentation of the facts in the Skatzes trial;

JudicialConduct.pdf is the newspaper article signed by Justice Pfeifer and entitled, "Ohio inmate deserves death for role in 1993 Lucasville riot," and Canon 3 of the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct.

Staughton Lynd
1694 Timbers Court
Niles, OH 44446-3941


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