Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Sentence in riot appealed

Prison killer makes case

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS - The reputed ringleader of the Lucasville prison riot has a problem keeping defense attorneys on his case.

        On Tuesday, Carlos Sanders' latest defender pointed to that problem as the main reason the Ohio Supreme Court should overturn his death sentence.

        During oral arguments, Kelly Culshaw told justices that three court-appointed attorneys dropped Mr. Sanders before his 1996 trial began, complaining of low pay and long hours.

        Left with a replacement lawyer who had less than two months to prepare, Ms. Culshaw said Mr. Sanders didn't have a chance. Not against Hamilton County prosecutors and a state that spent 65,000 hours and $1.1 million putting together their case.

        “The state had a small army investigating this,” Ms. Culshaw said.

        Prosecutors say Mr. Sanders, who changed his name to Siddique Abdullah Hasan when he became a Muslim, led a bloody inmate uprising that took over an entire Lucasville prison block in 1993.

        A Hamilton County jury sentenced Mr. Sanders to die for ordering the death of prison guard Robert Vallandingham during the 11-day siege that followed.

        In the three years after rioters surrendered, Mr. Sanders lost three court-appointed attorneys. Ms. Culshaw said they could not afford to work on the case at $30 to $40 an hour.

        With 56 days to go before trial, she said replacement lawyer Tim Smith did not have enough time to digest a mountain of evidence and more than 400 potential witnesses. Though co-counsel David Otto had spent 18 months on the case, she said the two defense lawyers frequently disagreed on strategy.

        Bill Breyer, an assistant Hamilton County prosecutor, said Mr. Smith knew of the short time frame when he agreed to take on the case. He said Mr. Smith received more than $30,000 in compensation.

        Mr. Otto's 18 months of experience shows the defense team was prepared, Mr. Breyer said.

        Some of the justices had harsh questions for Ms. Culshaw.

        “Are you contending that the fact that (defense attorneys) received a meager fee is reversible error?” asked Justice Alice Robie Resnick.

        “He was there. Witnesses said he did it. A jury had to convict beyond a reasonable doubt,” Justice Andrew Douglas said. “What's left?”

        The court is expected to hand down a decision within the next three to six months.


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