Saturday, June 7, 2003

Were sent back to death row after second murder trial



By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

James Were is going back to death row.

After two trials for killing a Lucasville prison guard in a 1993 riot, Were was sentenced Friday to die by lethal injection on Oct. 4, 2003.

In a 10-minute hearing, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Fred Cartolano told Were that his part in the murder outweighed any mitigating circumstances that might have led to a lesser sentence of life in prison.

Defense attorneys argued that the 46-year-old Were is mentally retarded and should not be sent to death row. They said that riot leaders used people like Were to avoid responsibility and to take the fall for them.

Were, outfitted in prison stripes, shook his head slightly when asked if he would like to make a statement.

The widow of slain corrections officer Robert Vallandingham said she was "thrilled" by the verdict.

"He's going where he belongs," Peggy Vallandingham said. "He showed no remorse and I didn't expect any apology. That would mean he admitted his guilt. He is smart enough not to do that."

She said Were played the system and by winning a new trial after a 1995 jury sentenced him to death, he gets to start his appeal process all over again. "He was smart enough to buy himself another 10 years on death row."

Were's only comment came when the judge asked if he would like the court to appoint attorneys to handle his appeal. "I'd appreciate it," he said.

Were was convicted in 1995 for Robert Vallandingham's strangulation death, but in 2002 the Ohio Supreme Court overturned the conviction because Were had not been previously evaluated for competency to stand trial.

Last month, a second jury again found him guilty of aggravated murder and kidnapping, deliberating a day and a half before recommending death.

Cartolano said he did not find evidence to show that Were is mentally retarded.

Were is the fourth inmate on death row for Vallandingham's murder during the 1993 riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. Cartolano handled one of the other cases, imposing the death penalty on inmate Carlos Sanders.

Vallandingham said she is determined to follow the case through the appeals system and make sure she is always in court.

"It is part of my life. I just have to deal with it."

E-mail ranglen@enquirer.com




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