Friday, June 30, 2000
Victim's family wants killer's windfall
They win wrongful-death suit, he later wins $50,000; is it theirs?
By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
As a convicted killer serving a life sentence, Johnny Lee Fryman
doesn't know what he will do with the $50,000 he won recently in a court
He's thought about using it to pay his lawyers or to buy snacks and
cigarettes at the prison commissary.
One thing he won't do is give it to his victim's family.
Mr. Fryman's lawyers will be in a Cincinnati court today to argue that
the relatives of his victim, Monica Lemen, are not entitled to his share
of a settlement from the Lucasville prison riot.
The relatives claim they should get the money because they won a $1 million wrongful-death lawsuit
against him years ago.
Mr. Fryman, who was injured in the 1993 prison riot, says the suit does not
apply to the money he received as compensation.
"He would like to keep it,'' said Mr. Fryman's lawyer,
The debate over whether he can is part of a national controversy about
the right of inmates to collect cash windfalls that come their way while
they are in prison.
Some states have enacted ""Son of Sam'' laws, a reference to New York
serial killer David Berkowitz, to prevent criminals from profiting from
the sale of books or movies about their crimes.
Others, like Ohio, have aggressively pursued inmate
money regardless of the source.
Ohio's Attorney General, Betty Montgomery, recently created a task
force to chase down court fees, victim damage awards and other debts owed
by inmates who suddenly find themselves swimming in cash.
"We want to ensure that before they collect a penny, they've paid
their debt to society,'' said Chris Davey, spokesman for the attorney
general. "This has been increasingly applied around the country.''
In Mr. Fryman's case, it was the victim's relatives who made the first
move for compensation.
They filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against him in 1988, shortly after
a Butler County jury convicted him of one of Greater Cincinnati's most
A judge awarded the family $1 million after concluding Mr. Fryman had caused the death of Ms. Lemen in 1987 by "violent and unprovoked acts.''
Those acts included killing the 21-year-old Price Hill woman, severing
her legs and hiding her body.
Her legs were found behind a church in Indiana. The remainder of her
body never was found.
Although Ms. Lemen's family won the wrongful-death case, it was little
more than a moral victory because Mr. Fryman had no assets to seize.
That changed, however, when he became part of the $4.1 million
settlement involving inmates hurt in the Lucasville riot.
After receiving the award, Mr. Lemen began arguing that he was
never properly notified of the Lemen family's wrongful-death lawsuit in
He also said in a letter that he believed the lawsuit had "grown
dormant under Ohio law,'' meaning the judge's order should no longer
Neither Ms. Lemen's relatives nor their attorney could be reached for
But in a court document filed this week they argued that the wrongful
death judgment is valid and Mr. Fryman must hand over the money.
Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel said he will meet with attorneys for
both sides today. It will be up to him to decide what happens to Mr.
Mr. Swope said he understands the Lemen family's position. "They want
the money, and I don't blame them,'' he said. "They think they have a
But he also said courts should not disregard an inmate's right to
money simply because he is in prison.
He said Ohio's prisons are obligated to provide basic care and
protection to inmates. And when they don't, he said, those inmates are
entitled to compensation.
He said Mr. Fryman was nearly killed in the early hours of the riot
when fellow inmates beat him, stabbed him, rolled him into a carpet and
left him for dead in the recreation yard. "He's very lucky to be
alive,'' Mr. Swope said.
He said his client has told him he may use the money to pay his
attorneys, stock his commissary account and help support some family
But in their claim against him, Ms. Lemen's parents said the murder of
their daughter means Mr. Fryman owes more to them than to anyone.
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