Thursday, May 16, 2002

Prison riot leader's sentence of death upheld by high court

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the death sentence of a man convicted of killing five fellow inmates as the leader of a “death squad” that targeted prison snitches during the 1993 prison riot near Lucasville.

        In a unanimous decision, the court rejected all 20 arguments from Keith Lamar that he was unfairly convicted.

        His main argument was he didn't have full access to witness statements, preventing his lawyers from determining whether any of the witnesses could have testified on his behalf.

        Justice Deborah Cook wrote in the court's opinion that nothing in the statements could have put the whole case in a different light or undermined the guilty verdict.

        “We find no reasonable probability of a different trial outcome had the defense received the full statements,” she wrote. “Many of the statements identified Lamar as a participant in the murders. And statements identifying other inmates as participants did not exculpate Lamar because each victim had been attacked by multiple assailants.”

        Mr. Lamar, 32, was serving 15 years to life for murder and theft when he participated in the 11-day riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. A prison guard, Robert Vallandingham, 40, and nine inmates were killed.

        During the standoff, Mr. Lamar became a leader of a group of inmates that found themselves trapped inside a cellblock. The state said Mr. Lamar told the Muslim inmates who orchestrated the riots that he and his group, later dubbed “the death squad,” would kill several prison snitches if they were allowed into the prison yard.

        Mr. Lamar received four death sentences for killing four prisoners. He also was sentenced to 30 years to life for aggravated murder after he ordered the killing of Dennis Weaver, who died when other inmates stuffed paper and plastic bags down his throat.

        He was the only inmate convicted of killing other prisoners to receive the death penalty. The only other inmates to receive the death penalty were those who killed the guard.


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