Thursday, May 22, 2003

Death sentence is jury's decision for '93 rioter

By Andrea Uhde
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Peggy Vallandingham (center), widow of the slain guard, leaves the Hamilton County Courthouse Wednesday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
The fate of James Were is now in the hands of Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Fred Cartolano.

A jury Wednesday recommended the death penalty for Were, who was convicted last week on two charges of aggravated murder and kidnapping for killing corrections officer Robert Vallandingham during the 1993 riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Cartolano will issue his decision June 6. He could agree with the jury, or impose one of two lesser sentences.

Peggy Vallandingham, the guard's widow, sat poised with her hands clasped as Cartolano slowly read the jury's recommendation. Meanwhile, jurors sat with frozen stares, dodging any glances from Were, who was emotionless.

The jury, which deliberated a day and a half, also had the choices of life in prison with parole possible after 20 years or after 30 years. Defense attorneys favored those, saying Were is mentally retarded and wasn't aware of his actions.

Were was convicted and sentenced to die for the same crime in 1995. The Ohio Supreme Court overturned the conviction because Were was not given a competency hearing.

His retrial began in Hamilton County in late April.

If sentenced to death, Were will be the fourth Lucasville inmate on death row for Vallandingham's murder. Cartolano handled one of the other cases, in which he imposed the death penalty on inmate Carlos Sanders.

"You're not alone," Cartolano told the jury after he read its verdict and explained the related cases.

Special prosecutor Steve Tolbert predicted that Cartolano will agree with the death sentence. "While it may not be the easiest thing to do, I think it's the right thing to do," Tolbert said.

Defense attorneys for Were declined to comment.


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