George Skatzes Ohio Prison Murders

George Skatzes was sentenced to death by the State of Ohio for three prison murders

According to court documents during the Lucasville Riots George Skatzes would murder a prison guard and two inmates

George Skatzes would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death

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Chillicothe Correctional Institution

George Skatzes Case

he state’s evidence established the following. The riot was planned by the prison’s primary gangs: the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist group, the Muslims, who were mostly black, and the Black Gangster Disciples, who focused on making money rather than on any philosophical viewpoint. It was unusual for these groups to work together. The Muslims were upset on religious grounds by mandatory tuberculosis testing scheduled to begin on Monday, April 12, 1993, and the Aryan Brotherhood was upset by racial integration in inmate housing.

{¶ 4} On April 11, 1993, Easter Sunday, the riot began in L-block at approximately 3:00 p.m. as inmates from one or two cell blocks were returning from the recreation yard. The prison was short-staffed that day because of the holiday. The inmates overpowered the corrections officers in the gymnasium and in the central corridor, beat them, and took their keys. Within a relatively short period of time, the various cell blocks and individual cells throughout L-block were unlocked, and the inmates were released into the common areas. The corrections officers who had been staffing the cell blocks fled to the locked restrooms and stairwells for safety pursuant to prison policy, but inmates broke through metal doors and cinder block walls using weight bars and furniture and took them hostage. The corrections officers were beaten, some seriously, then were gathered in designated areas and changed into inmate clothing. Meanwhile, the gangs positioned inmate guards at the door to the recreation yard to prohibit inmates from leaving L-block. Over four hundred inmates remained inside L-block for the duration of the riot.

{¶ 5} The initial hours of the riot were characterized by chaos, random destruction of prison property, and violence against inmates who were believed to be “snitches” or against whom others had personal vendettas. However, the leaders of the three gangs worked together and organization began to emerge. The most seriously injured corrections officers were released onto the recreation yard, and the bodies of several murdered inmates, including Earl Elder, were deposited there as well. Gang members armed themselves with a wide variety of makeshift weapons, established internal rules, designated security officers, and began telephone negotiations with authorities. Each gang occupied a designated area, and each held some of the hostages. Authorities cut off power and water to L-block.

{¶ 6} Skatzes and Jason Robb were the leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood during the riot. Skatzes was one of the primary negotiators with the authorities during the early days of the riot and identified himself to the authorities. Along with the other inmate negotiators, Skatzes presented a list of demands compiled by gang members and other inmates. The demands related to prison conditions generally, such as the tuberculosis testing and the racial integration, and to conditions as they existed during the course of the riot, such as the need for food drops and the inmates’ desire that water and power be restored to L-block. Officials began audio taping these telephone negotiations on April 13. They also installed microphones in tunnels that ran underneath L-block, which were able to record some of the inmates’ conversations, including some of the meetings of the gang leaders (“the tunnel tapes”).

{¶ 7} As days passed, there was some unhappiness and restlessness among the gang leaders about the lack of progress in the negotiations. These feelings were exacerbated by an April 14 television broadcast by Tess Unwin, a spokesperson for the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, which seemed to disparage the inmates’ threat to kill a hostage. During telephone negotiations on the morning of April 15, Skatzes repeated the gangs’ demand that water and power be restored to L-block, and he specified that, if the state did not comply by 10:30 a.m., “it’s a guaranteed murder.” The state did not comply, and at 11:10 a.m., the body of Corrections Officer Robert Vallandingham was placed on the recreation yard by four inmates.

{¶ 8} Later that day, the gang leaders agreed to release a hostage in exchange for making a radio broadcast regarding their demands. Skatzes made the radio broadcast on behalf of the inmates that night, and Corrections Officer Darrold Clark was released. Because many inmates and gang members were disappointed with Skatzes’ presentation of their demands in the radio broadcast, his role in the negotiations diminished after this point.

{¶ 9} After several more days of negotiation and after consulting with an attorney, the gang leaders agreed to a surrender on April 21, 1993. The surrender occurred over several hours as small groups of inmates were processed by the authorities. The gang leaders were the last inmates to surrender, and the remaining hostages were released. Some murders and attempted murders occurred during the surrender, including the murder of inmate David Sommers, whose body was found when the authorities reentered L-block. As part of their agreement with the authorities, over one hundred gang members were transferred out of Lucasville immediately upon their surrender.

{¶ 10} When the authorities entered L-block to conduct their investigation, they found vast destruction of prison property. For example, almost all of the windows, toilets, and sinks had been smashed, pipes had been exposed, and fires had been set. Because of the vast destruction, the number of inmates involved, and the elapsed time, the authorities were unable to uncover physical evidence linking crimes to particular inmates. Thus, they built cases based largely upon the testimony of other inmates. In all, fifty inmates were charged with felonies, and many more were disciplined administratively following the riot.

{¶ 11} Skatzes was indicted for the aggravated murders of Elder, Vallandingham, and Sommers and for kidnapping Elder, Vallandingham, and Clark. The evidence in support of each of these counts will be discussed infra. Each count of aggravated murder included four specifications of aggravating circumstances: that Skatzes was a prisoner at the time of the offense, that the offense was part of a course of conduct by Skatzes involving the purposeful killing of or attempt to kill two or more persons, that the offense was committed while committing kidnapping, and that he had previously been convicted of an offense involving the purposeful killing of another. Each count of kidnapping contained a specification that Skatzes had previously been convicted of an offense that was substantially equivalent to an aggravated felony of the first degree, namely aggravated murder

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