Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Jury deliberates in Lucasville death

Retrial in murder of prison guard resumes today

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Eight years ago, a Hamilton County jury sentenced James Were to die for kidnapping a corrections officer and killing him during the 1993 riots at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

A different jury now holds Were's fate in its hands.

In 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court overturned his 1995 conviction and Were, 46, has been retried in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court over the past two weeks.

Were is accused of kidnapping Robert Vallandingham on April 11, 1993, the day the riot broke out. Four days later he was one of several inmates who voted to kill a guard if inmate demands for food and water were not met, authorities say. Those demands didn't happen - and later that morning, prosecutors say, Were ordered Vallandingham killed.

Peggy Vallandingham, the correction officer's widow, sat vigil in the courtroom, listening to the newest testimony about her husband's death. She often looked down as prosecutors and defense attorneys rehashed her husband's brutal killing during closing arguments Tuesday.

Special prosecutor Steve Tolbert portrayed Were as one of the riot's leaders. Prosecutors played a tape, secretly recorded during the riots in tunnels below the prison, in which Were talked about killing a guard and being a "hardliner."

"This was a senseless murder voted on and put into effect by James Were," Tolbert said. "The person who puts the events in motion is ultimately just as responsible."

Throughout the trial, inmates involved in the riot testified about Were's involvement in Vallandingham's death.

One of Were's defense attorneys, Stephen Wenke, shot down that testimony Tuesday in his closing arguments. He said the inmates spoke out against Were in an effort to garner favorable treatment. He added that the prosecution presented no physical evidence. Much of the evidence had been contaminated because it could not be recovered immediately.

The jury began deliberations Tuesday afternoon, was sequestered for the evening and will resume this morning.

Were is serving a sentence of 15 to 65 years for aggravated robbery and felonious assault but could face the death penalty if convicted of Vallandingham's murder. Three inmates already have been convicted of murdering Vallandingham. Two are awaiting execution. The third received a life term for killing Vallandingham but was sentenced to death for killing two inmates.

Nine inmates died in the riot. Vallandingham was the only corrections officer killed.


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