This weekend I chaired a conference entitled "Re-examining the Lucasville Uprising." The following is the unanimous resolution passed on the 20th anniversary of the Lucasville Uprising, the largest prison uprising in the history of the United States.
Having met in Columbus on April 19-21, 2013, to re-examine the history of the uprising in April 1993 and the judicial proceedings that followed, we conclude:
1. No one should be executed for alleged conduct during the rebellion! The State relied on the unreliable testimony of prisoner informants, obtained in exchange for substantial benefits. The State also concedes that it does not know who were the hands-on killers of Officer Vallandingham and the other victims. Investigators and prosecutors pursued a strategy of targeting prisoners who served as spokespersons and negotiators, in violation of the settlement agreement. There was no physical evidence except for the testimony of medical examiners, which repeatedly contradicted prosecution theories. For these and other facts, see below.

2. Twenty years is enough! With regard to all verdicts of guilt, capital and non-capital, additional years of punishment should be set aside. See below.

3. The State should permit media access, including face-to-face video and audio recording, to Lucasville defendants so that prisoners can tell their side of the story and make public what their juries didn’t hear!

4. Ohio should consider the example of Governor Carey of New York who, a little more than five years after the Attica disturbance, issued a proclamation of amnesty! There is overwhelming evidence that the State shares responsibility, along with the prisoners, for the deaths that occurred. See below.


The State does not know who killed Officer Vallandingham or the other victims. Former Lucasville prosecutor Daniel Hogan, in a taped interview with documentary filmmaker Derrick Jones, stated: “I don’t know that we will ever know who hands-on killed the corrections officer, Vallandingham,” and later on the tape, in response to the question who killed Officer Vallandingham, “I don’t know. And I don’t think we’ll ever know.”

Prisoner Kenneth Law, fearing re-indictment for the murder of Vallandingham, testified against Hasan and Were that he watched them supervise the officer’s murder.

In affidavits dated Mar. 9, 2000 and Sept. 19, 2003, Law recanted these statements. No other testimony was offered by an alleged witness to Vallandingham’s death.

The autopsy on Officer Vallandingham was performed by Dr. Patrick Fardal, chief forensic pathologist and deputy coroner for Franklin County. In State v. Robb, the prosecution presented a witness who said that two prisoners placed a weight bar on Vallandingham’s neck and rocked back and forth. Dr. Fardal said No, the sole cause of death was ligature strangulation. Undaunted, the prosecution presented the same so-called evidence in State v. Sanders and Dr. Fardal again refuted it.

In separate trials for George Skatzes and Aaron Jefferson alleging the defendant’s murder of David Sommers, the medical examiner testified that Sommers had been killed by a single massive blow with an object like a baseball bat. Both defendants were convicted for striking that single blow! The Court of Appeals concluded there was no way to prove who killed Sommers.

In violation of Points 2 and 14 of the 21 point settlement agreement, the State sought to build cases against spokespersons and negotiators for the prisoners. In the settlement agreement Warden Tate promised, “Administrative discipline and criminal proceedings will be fairly and impartially administered without bias against individuals or groups” (Point 2), and, “There will be no retaliatory actions taken toward any inmate or groups of inmates” (Point 14). In violation of these promises, as Reginald Wilkinson, director of the ODRC, and his associate Thomas Stickrath, wrote in the Corrections Management Quarterly, prosecutors “targeted a few gang leaders.”

Sergeant Howard Hudson, the State’s chief investigator, testified that there is no DNA evidence or other physical evidence linking any suspect to any of the murders. All convictions were based primarily on unreliable testimony by prisoner informants, obtained in exchange for immunity from prosecution, plea bargains with dropped charges or reduced sentences, protection while in prison, and letters to the parole board. Examples are: Prosecution witness Stacey Gordon admitted to helping to murder Bruce Harris but was not charged, and is out on the street. Louis Jones, one of the State’s witnesses against Keith LaMar, confessed to being part of the “death squad” but was never indicted for anything. Rodger Snodgrass confessed that he tried to murder Earl Elder. He, too, was paroled.

The State shares responsibility for the deaths that occurred. Warden Tate rejected a Muslim proposal to test for TB by X-ray or sputum sample although such an alternative had been used at the Mansfield prison.

Sergeant Hudson testified that when prisoner representatives sought a peaceful settlement the authorities deliberately stalled. Hudson explained that “the basic principle is to maintain a dialogue, to buy time, because the more time that goes on the greater the chances for a peaceful resolution to the situation.” He was catastrophically wrong!

On the morning of April 12, as the prisoners were trying to broadcast their demands to the media, Warden Tate ordered that electricity and water in the occupied cell block should be cut off. Immediately before Officer Vallandingham’s murder, the parties were unsuccessfully attempting to resolve this new issue.

Finally, on the morning of April 14, spokesperson Tessa Unwin was asked at a press conference about a sheet hung from an L-block window on which the prisoners threatened to kill a hostage officer. Listening on battery-powered radios the prisoners heard her answer, “It’s a standard threat. It’s nothing new.” The correctional officers’ union commented later: “As anyone familiar with the process and language of negotiations would know, this kind of public discounting of the inmate threats practically guaranteed a hostage death!” Neither the State nor the prisoners intended what happened, and both contributed to what occurred. As Governor Carey of New York said about Attica, Lucasville was a “tragedy of immense proportions, unalterably affecting countless lives. . . .” Governor Carey pardoned inmates convicted of crimes during the 1971 uprising at Attica. “These actions,” he wrote (New York Times, Dec. 31, 1976), should not be construed as a reflection of a lack of culpability for the conduct at issue. Rather, these actions are in recognition that there does exist a larger wrong which transcends the wrongful acts of individuals caught in the seamless web into which the tragedy of Attica has spun itself. They are in recognition of the immutable principle in our society that the state itself should not sanction the maintenance of legal proceedings out of harmony with the principles of equal justice.

Ohio should follow the example of Governor Carey!