The following is excerpted from Staughton Lynd’s forthcoming book, LUCASVILLE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF A PRISON UPRISING (Temple University Press).

The State’s Version

According to prosecutors, the four men later convicted of the aggravated murder of Officer Robert Vallandingham – Jason Robb, Namir (a.k.a. James Were), George Skatzes, and Hasan (a.k.a. Carlos Sanders) – set in motion plans to kill one of the hostage guards. These plans were approved, so the juries were told, by a vote of gang leaders in attendance at a meeting between 8 and 9 a.m. on April 15, 1993.

The Ohio Supreme Court has endorsed this version of events in a summary of alleged facts preceding its opinion in State v. Robb.

In the early morning April 15 meeting, gang leaders agreed to demand electricity and water and issued a strict timetable for compliance or they would kill a guard. At the end of the meeting, Cummings asked if everybody agreed that “if [they] don’t give us these things, . . . then we gonna kill them one.” Both Snodgrass and Lavelle verified that defendant [Robb] voted for an officer to be killed if water and electricity were not turned on in the time demanded.

Four of the Lucasville Five await execution because of this official history. The problem is that it is not true.

There is no evidence of any kind that the leadership meeting “issued a strict timetable for compliance or they would kill a guard.” The FBI made a tape of the meeting from a tunnel under L block, and the only show of hands or voice vote mentioned on the tape concerns negotiating demands for the day. (The transcript of Tunnel Tape 61 that the State used during the trials is attached as Appendix 1, so that the reader can make an independent assessment.) Read in their entirety, Cummings’ words envision a process: first, Skatzes was to go back on the phone and express “non-negotiable demands” for the restoration of water and electricity; second, the leaders were to “meet back after we put our non-negotiable things out” and only then make a final decision about killing a guard.

As for Lavelle, he testified about the April 15 meeting not only in the Robb trial, but also in the trials of Namir, Skatzes, and Hasan. In State v. Were, the following exchange occurred:
Q. When you left the meeting, was that the understanding, that a guard was going to be killed?
A. No. When I left the meeting, the understanding was we was going to meet up later on that afternoon and give them our final ultimatum. I had told them you know, just pick a time later on this afternoon, we can all come back and take the final vote.

Similarly at the Skatzes trial, Lavelle testified that there was no need for him to voice at the morning meeting what he claimed was his own opposition to killing a guard because “we was going to meet back up later that afternoon” to evaluate the results of negotiations.

Finally, in Hasan’s trial, Lavelle for a third time affirmed that at the end of the morning meeting:

We hadn’t made a clear decision. I had told them, you know, that we should decide on what we’re going to do but we need to come back after the deadline and make sure that this is what we want to do.

So I said, you know, after we give them a deadline, if they don’t meet it we should come back together and decide, you know, whether we want to do this or not.

At another point in State v. Sanders, Lavelle stated that at the morning meeting he “suggested after the deadline has been established and it’s passed that we meet back up later and decide on whether this is what we want to do, be sure that this is what we want to do.” The following exchange ensued:

Q. Okay. Did anybody say: No, we’re not going to do that?
A. No.
Q. So then the agreement was that he would not be killed without another meeting?
A. That’s correct. . . . I state, let’s meet back up here later at another time, after we give them this[,] 2:30, 3:30, whatever, and we decide, okay, they haven’t met our demands, they had until such and such a time, they haven’t met it, are we going to do it. Yes or no. Everybody said that’s a good idea.

The alleged decision at the morning meeting on April 15 is the basic evidence connecting Hasan, Namir, Robb and Skatzes to the murder of Officer Vallandingham. Lavelle’s testimony in the four trials, taken as a whole, was that the morning meeting discussed the murder of a guard but did not come to a final decision, and that another meeting during the afternoon was to happen before a guard would be killed. The testimony of the prosecution’s lead witness thus suggests that when a guard was in fact killed that morning, it was not as a result of the morning meeting but because a group of prisoners, in a rogue action, decided to take the decision into their own hands.

What Really Happened

I submit that the actual history of how Officer Robert Vallandingham came to be killed is as follows.

Beginning Monday, April 12, the prisoners had conducted intermittent telephone negotiations with the authorities. Their first spokesperson was a Muslim, James Bell. Bell has a speech impediment that made it difficult for him to be understood. During the afternoon of April 13, Bell was replaced by Skatzes.

Skatzes proposed the release of two hostages in exchange for 1) restoration of water and electricity in the occupied cell block, and 2) an opportunity to air the prisoners’ demands on radio and television. He said that he was seeking a negotiated solution so that no guards would be killed. “I’d like to see those officers get out of here,” Skatzes said on April 14, and David Burchett, who was negotiating for the State, replied, “I know that you’d like to see them get out of here, because you care about them too. I know you do. So, you and I can work through this.” Skatzes argued that the safety of the officers depended greatly on being able to see what was going on around them, hence that restoration of electricity was in the interest of both the State and the prisoners. He asked Burchett, “Do you realize what [it] is to keep people from going off on one another and to keep peace in here and . . . to keep these people from going at them guards?” Responding to Burchett’s concern that there might be competition among reporters who wished to talk to the inmates, Skatzes said, “We’re not worrying about hurt feelings, because somebody didn’t get to be first. We’re worried about lives in here.”

Late on the evening of April 14, after five laborious hours of negotiation, Skatzes and Burchett agreed on the release of two guards in exchange for media broadcasts on radio and TV. The day ended for the exhausted spokespersons like the end of a scene from “The Waltons.”

SKATZES: All right, Dave.
BURCHETT: All right. Thanks, George.
SKATZES: All right. Say a prayer for us.
BURCHETT: I sure will.
SKATZES: God bless you.
BURCHETT: You too.

At Skatzes’ trial, even prosecutor Hogan conceded that Skatzes and Burchett ended April 14 “on the verge” of the release of two hostages and in “elevated spirits.”

But when prisoner representatives met the next morning between 8 and 9 a.m., they pointed out that Skatzes had dropped one of their key demands: restoration of water and electricity. Skatzes was alone in advocating the agreement he had negotiated the previous evening. The meeting ended with agreement that Skatzes should get back on the negotiation phone, and demand restoration of water and electricity.

Meantime Anthony Lavelle, leader of the Black Gangster Disciples (BGD), had decided for himself that a guard must be killed. Lavelle told other prisoners that the Muslims and Aryan Brothers were too soft, and that he and his BGD colleagues would do what had to be done.

Accordingly, Lavelle began to recruit a death squad of his own to kill a guard. Three members of the Black Gangster Disciples in April 1993 have stated under oath that on April 14, the day before Officer Vallandingham was murdered, Lavelle tried to enlist them in his plan to kill a guard. Brian Eskridge states that he was beaten for refusing:

“Lavelle told me that the Disciples were going to ‘take care of business’ and he wanted me to participate, but I didn’t. Lavelle had me held by other inmates because I didn’t handle business. The inmates beat me because I had violated the order to take care of business – kill a guard.”

Wayne Flannigan declares:

“I heard Lavelle tell Aaron Jefferson (AJ), ‘I’ve got some business for you to take care of.’ From my experience in prison and with Lavelle and the BGD, I knew what Lavelle meant – he told AJ to kill a guard.”

And Aaron Jefferson affirms:

“The first inmate to suggest killing a guard was Lavelle ... Lavelle wanted to order me to kill a guard ... I was one of the BGD who beat up Brian Eskridge. Lavelle ordered that Eskridge be beaten because he refused to participate in killing a guard.”

Lavelle eventually found two other prisoners who were willing to do as he directed. Next he persuaded his friend Stacey Gordon, a Muslim in charge of security in L-6, to let the BGD death squad proceed. During the uprising Sean Davis slept in pod L-1 which was controlled by the BGD. Davis woke up at about 7 a.m. on the morning of April 15, and heard Lavelle talking with Gordon. Davis heard Lavelle tell Gordon that “he was going to take care of that business.” Gordon responded, “you go ahead, take care of it; ... I will come clean it up afterward.”

When the leadership meeting ended at about 9 a.m. that morning, Skatzes returned to the telephone as instructed. He stated that he could not negotiate further until the inmates had water and electricity. He predicted that an officer would be killed if the water and electricity were not turned back on. When prison negotiator Prise said that there was a possibility of injury because of damage to the electric system, Skatzes responded that he knew what would happen if the electricity were not turned on. A fragment catches these words by Skatzes:

“I stress to you, ... if you turn this on, you, you think you might electrocute somebody ... If you don’t turn it on, it’s a guaranteed murder.”

Meantime Lavelle, carrying a weight bar and accompanied by two masked colleagues, went from L-1 to L-6, and told all but a few persons inside L-6 to leave the pod.

Prisoner Tyree Parker testified that on the morning of April 15 he had occasion to go to the door of L-6. He could see a clock as he did so. It was 10:00 a.m. or 10:05 a.m. at the latest. At the door to L-6 he met Anthony Lavelle and two other prisoners, “dressed up or masked up from head to toe.”

Willie Johnson, another prisoner, testified in both the Robb and Were trials. He said that during the riot he celled in L-1. Around 9 a.m. on April 15 he heard Anthony Lavelle tell Johnny Long and one other prisoner that he (Lavelle) had told George (Skatzes) to tell the authorities to turn on the water and electricity by a certain time “or I’m going to send one of these honkies up out of here.” He added, according to Johnson, “the Muslims, they playing peacekeepers and they think that we ain’t serious.” Lavelle then told Johnny Long, “put on your mask,” and Lavelle, Long, and the other man who was already wearing a mask, left the pod. Lavelle was carrying a weight bar.

Later the three men returned to L-1, Johnson continued. “Lavelle was like in a frenzy and he was slamming the pipe down, saying, see how they like me now, see if they think we bullshitting now. The Muslims just playing games, they ain’t serious. I want to show them that we ain’t to be fucked with.”

Prisoner Eddie Moss testified that on the morning of April 15, he saw Anthony Lavelle, carrying a pipe, and two masked men, knock on the L-6 door and go into L-6. Soon after, Reggie Williams, Sherman Sims, Sterling Barnes, and Eric Girdy came out of L-6. After a few minutes, Reggie Williams said “they should be finished” and he and the others who had earlier exited L-6 went back in. At about the same time, Lavelle and his two masked associates came out of L-6.

About noon that day, as Moss was collecting water in the gym, Lavelle tried to recruit him to the BGD. Lavelle said, “We took care of business ... I ain’t gonna tell you, you heard about it on the radio.” Lavelle went on to say, Moss reported, “them Muslims and them Aryan Brotherhood, they want to protect these damn polices.”

Sterling “Death Row” Barnes likewise testified that on the morning of April 15 he saw Anthony Lavelle and two masked men come from the direction of L-1, go into L-6, and return in the direction of L-1.

What makes these witness statements so persuasive is that they come from members of a variety of prison groups. Greg Durkin, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, recalled under oath that he sat next to George Skatzes when Skatzes was on the phone with negotiators on the morning of April 15. Lavelle came in and handed George a note written on the back of a kite. George read the paper out loud. It read, “The hard-liners are taking over.” Durkin went on, “Then I saw Lavelle come out of L-1 with two masked inmates. They went into L-6. After Lavelle entered L-6, the Muslim inmates came out ... I went back to the hallway and saw Lavelle and the two masked inmates come out of L-6. Lavelle was laughing. He later said that he had taken care of business ... Lavelle had been mad about what the prison spokeswoman told the media about not taking the inmates seriously, and he said that showed her that he wasn’t joking.”

Similarly the late Roy “Buster” Donald, an unaffiliated African American, executed an affidavit stating:

10. On April 15, 1993, from inside L3 I saw Anthony Lavelle and two masked inmates enter L6. Several inmates exited shortly thereafter, including Sherman Simms, Reggie Williams, Eric Girdy, and Inmate Barnes ... I asked Girdy what was going on and he said Lavelle and his boys put everyone out of the block.

11. ... Shortly after, Lavelle and the two masked men rushed out of L6 in the direction of L1.

12. Stacey Gordon next entered L6. He was in there a short time and then motioned for Kenneth Law to come inside the block. Moments later, Law, Simms, and two masked inmates drug a body wrapped in sheets out of L6 towards the gym ...

14. Later that night, Lavelle was in L3 looking for clothes. I asked him what was going on. Lavelle told me that Gordon had given him the okay to kill a guard and that he took care of his business ...

Officer Vallandingham was killed before 11 a.m. According to the Critical Incident Communications, Skatzes was still on the telephone at 10:50 a.m., “talking about last night[‘s] deal.” At 10:53 a.m., a “background voice said something about a dead body.” At 11 a.m., an anguished Skatzes was heard telling Prise that he was “wasting valuable time.”

The murder of a correctional officer transformed the situation. As Skatzes had warned his colleagues, the public reacted to the murder of one officer as it had not reacted (and would not react) to the killing of several prisoners. The prosecutor would later tell the jury at Hasan’s trial that “there can be no doubt in your mind that the most important event in this riot was the killing of Bob Vallandingham.”

All of those who had come forward or would come forward as negotiators and spokespersons, whatever the truth about their individual roles, henceforth would have a large target on their backs. They were all perceived by the public to be cop killers, and the State would be merciless.

The Attica Example Applied

The Ohio Special Prosecutor must be assumed to be familiar with the overwhelming evidence pointing to Anthony Lavelle as the actual killer of Officer Vallandingham. The very first prisoner from L block to be questioned by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, at 11:48 p.m. on the night of the surrender, was Emanuel “Buddy” Newell. He told Troopers West and Rogols:

“That head guy of the disciples, the leader, I heard him one day, you know, talking, when I was out about executing police he said and I want to execute some more police. Those were his words. He said I want to execute some more police but the Aryans don’t want me to do it.”

Moreover, Lavelle himself had a videotaped interview with Trooper Shepard in May 1994 and told a story wholly at variance with the testimony he later offered to convict Robb, Namir, Skatzes and Hasan.

Lavelle confessed to Shepard that he “was there” when Officer Vallandingham was strangled. He had been able to recognize the officer who was murdered by his bandaged shoulder. He was three or four cells away from the cell or shower in which Officer Vallandingham was killed. “When they brought his body out, I was standing at the top of the range,” Lavelle concluded.

Yet in trial after trial Lavelle was permitted to tell unsuspecting juries that he was nowhere near L-6 at the time Officer Vallandingham was murdered.

Kenneth Law, a key witness against Hasan and Namir, was likewise permitted to present perjured testimony. Law has since stated under oath that:

1. He, Sherman Sims and Stacey Gordon made up a story about the Vallandingham murder, which they knew “was the key to the door [out of prison].”

2. The State did not believe his story and tried him for the kidnapping and aggravated murder of Vallandingham. He was found Guilty of kidnapping but the jury hung on the murder charge.

3. The State then told him he would be retried for aggravated murder unless he agreed to testify against Hasan and Namir. “I was interviewed several times before both trials and was told what to say,” Law now states in his affidavits. What he was told to say was precisely the fictitious story that he, Sims, and Gordon originally concocted and which the State did not believe.

Law has also stated under oath that he knew Lavelle had killed Officer Vallandingham and so informed the State:

“On the morning of April 15, 1993, I was in L-1 and heard Anthony Lavelle, Aaron Jefferson, and Tim Williams talking about killing a guard. Lavelle left L-1, along with two others whom I recognized to be Gangster Disciples, despite their masks.

“A few minutes later, I also left L-1 and went toward L-6. As I approached the door of L-6, the two masked Disciples came out. I entered L-6 and saw Lavelle inside. I looked into the shower and saw Officer Vallandingham dead. It was very clear to me what had just happened: Lavelle and his associates had killed the guard ...”

During his interrogation, Law went on, “prosecutors, including Brower, and troopers, including McGough, placed tremendous pressure on me, saying that they would convict and execute me for killing Vallandingham, which I had nothing to do with, unless I said that Hasan had commanded the killing. At one point, I revealed to them that Anthony Lavelle had killed Vallandingham. The prosecutor told me that my story would have to change, because Lavelle was a state witness.”

A man named Alvin Jones, also known as Mosi Paki, was also accused of helping to kill Officer Vallandingham. Mr. Jones was tried, not in court, but by an administrative body known as a Rules Infraction Board. One of the witnesses was Sergeant Howard Hudson of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the chief investigator for the State in the Lucasville cases. Hudson testified in part:

“Law failed polygraph. Law took himself out of act [of killing Officer Vallandingham] and replaced himself with inmate Darnell Alexander. Nonetheless, after Jones’ RIB proceeding the State called Law as a witness in the later trial of Hasan and permitted Law to testify to the narrative the State believed to be false.”

Supposing the convictions of Hasan, Robb, Skatzes and Namir for the murder of Officer Vallandingham to be fatally flawed, what is left of the other aggravated murders for which members of the Lucasville Five have been convicted?

Hasan and Namir

Hasan and Namir were each found by a jury to be Not Guilty of the only other murder with which each was charged, the killing of prisoner Bruce Harris on April 21. Therefore, if their convictions for the death of Officer Vallandingham are vacated, neither can remain on Death Row.

Robb and Skatzes

Robb was convicted for the aggravated murder of prisoner David Sommers, and Skatzes for the aggravated murder of prisoners Sommers and Earl Elder. It is impossible within the scope of this book to examine each of these murders in detail. At least two eye witnesses, one of whom has confessed to taking part in killing Elder, state that Skatzes was nowhere in the vicinity and had nothing to do with it. Prisoner Aaron Jefferson was tried and found guilty for killing Sommers by a massive blow to the head with a baseball bat, the very crime for which Skatzes had previously been found guilty and sentenced to death.

But it is not necessary to descend to this level of detail to see why the death sentences of Robb and Skatzes for the killing of Elder and Sommers should be vacated. In their trials, prosecutors insisted – over the objections of defense counsel in each case – on trying the defendant in one proceeding for a single “course of conduct” that included all the crimes with which he was charged. The evidence in support of these alleged additional crimes was shaky and might well have resulted in findings of Not Guilty had each crime been tried separately. The charge of killing Officer Vallandingham was obviously the most likely to influence their juries. By trying the additional charges as part of a single course of conduct together with the false charge for the murder of Officer Vallandingham, the prosecution inevitably caused the Robb and Skatzes juries to be prejudiced against defendants and to be more likely to convict for the murders of Elder and Sommers.

The lengths to which prosecutors went to implicate defendants in the murder of Officer Vallandingham, because of its predictable effect on juries, is most dramatically illustrated by the case of Derek Cannon. Cannon was indicted for the murder of prisoner Darrell Depina on April 11. However, during Cannon’s trial the prosecution called Dwayne Buckley, an inmate at the Hamilton County jail where Cannon was being held for his trial. Buckley testified that Cannon told him that Cannon and some of his friends had “taken” a guard (who could only have been Officer Vallandingham) and tortured the officer before they killed him. According to Mr. Cannon’s defense lawyer, the judge commented that it was this witness who “impressed a lot of the jury as to what kind of person” Cannon was. There was only one difficulty: On April 15, when Officer Vallandingham was killed, Cannon was not in L block. The state has certified that Cannon was transported from SOCF to Lebanon Correctional Institution on April 16. Since no prisoner entered or left L block between April 11 and April 21, he could only have been outside L block on the day Officer Vallandingham was murdered there.

The prosecution having insisted that the charges against Robb and Skatzes for murdering Vallandingham should be tried together with the other charges against them, and the Vallandingham charge having been shown to be unfounded, the Elder and Sommers convictions should also be vacated.


Aaron Jefferson confessed to killing by himself one of the prisoners (Depina) whom Lamar was convicted of murdering. The witnesses to the other murders for which Lamar was convicted were in many instances the same men who testified, apparently untruthfully, to his responsibility for killing Depina. Moreover, Lamar was tried in rural Lawrence County in southeastern Ohio, where there was not a single African American on his jury and only two blacks in the “pool” from which the jury was selected.

Thus at Lucasville, as at Attica, there is a strong case for vacating all convictions and sentences. Amnesty should also extend to administrative proceedings that found other Lucasville prisoners guilty of crimes. For example, the Rules Infraction Board which found that Alvin Jones had helped to murder Officer Vallandingham relied on testimony by a witness who said he had seen Jones standing on a weight bar and rocking back and forth on it so as to crush the neck of Officer Vallandingham, lying prone on the ground. But the evidence of the coroner, not considered by the RIB, was that Vallandingham was killed by strangulation. The coroner found no evidence of use of a rigid object like a weight bar and that the larynx was not crushed.

It may be objected that a general amnesty for all crimes charged against all Lucasville defendants is “impossible.” This is precisely what was said at Attica. Negotiations during that uprising collapsed when the State refused to offer amnesty to the prisoners in rebellion, and 39 human beings, including 10 hostage correctional officers, died as a result. Later, amnesty was provided. Ohio can and should do the same.

Staughton Lynd’s new book, Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising will be available August 2004, published by Temple University Press. Staughton and his wife Alice are longtime civil rights activists. The Lynds are retired attorneys living in Niles, Ohio.

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