Keith Lamar Ohio Prison Murders

Keith Lamar was sentenced to death by the State of Ohio for a series of prison murders

According to court documents Keith Lamar was serving a sentence for murder when he took part in a prison riot where he would murder five men

Keith Lamar would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death

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Ohio State Penitentiary

Keith Lamar Case

On the afternoon of April 11, 1993, a group of Muslim inmates seized control of cellblock “L” (“L-Block”) at SOCF. The rioting inmates took several guards hostage and locked inmates considered “snitches” into various cells in the L-6 section of L-Block.   The Muslim inmates maintained control of unit L-6 while two other dominant groups-the Aryan Brotherhood (a racist group of white inmates) and the Black Gangster Disciples (a prison gang)-controlled other units within L-Block.

{¶ 3} On the day of the riot, LaMar was an SOCF inmate serving a sentence of eighteen years to life for a 1989 murder conviction.   LaMar, who was not a Muslim, did not plan or participate in the prison takeover and was in the prison recreation yard when the riot began.   But after the commotion began, LaMar and two other inmates, Louis Jones and Derek Cannon, went back inside L-Block to check the personal belongings in their respective cells.   When the three were unable to get back outside because the Muslims had closed access to and from L-Block, LaMar said to Jones and Cannon, “Ain’t no need in us staying in here getting caught up in something we’re not a part of.   Let’s kill all the snitches and get out to the yard.”

{¶ 4} LaMar approached Cecil Allen, a leader of the Muslim group of inmates, and asked, “if we kill the snitches, could we be let out to the yard so we don’t be a part of this?”   Allen consulted with the Muslim leadership and returned a few minutes later to tell LaMar that the “orders has [sic] been granted to kill the snitches.”

 {¶ 5} After Allen granted permission to “kill the snitches,” LaMar, Jones, and Cannon walked around the L-Block corridor to enlist other inmates to help them.   Eventually, the group recruited Hiawatha Frezzell (a.k.a. “Pittsburgh”), Eric Scales (a.k.a. “Tiger”), Derrick Mathews, Rasheem Matthews, Albert Young (a.k.a. “Da-Da”), and Gregory Curry to join the newly formed death squad.   LaMar’s group proceeded to unit L-2, where they retrieved bats, shovels, and weight bars to use as weapons.   The men also wore masks fashioned from T-shirts, towels, and bandannas.

{¶ 6} After arming and disguising themselves, LaMar and his group returned to L-6. Inmate Timothy Grinnell was operating the console that controlled the cell doors within L-6. LaMar led his group to the upper tier of the cellblock and instructed Grinnell to open a cell occupied by Andre Stockton.   After Grinnell complied with the demand, LaMar and Curry entered the cell and beat Stockton with a shovel and a baseball bat.   Other members of the group dragged Stockton from the cell and participated in the beating.

{¶ 7} After beating Stockton, the group went downstairs to the lower tier of L-6. LaMar yelled at Grinnell to open the cells occupied by inmates Ellis Walker and Darrell Depina.   After Walker refused to comply with LaMar’s command to come out of the cell, LaMar and Curry dragged him to the main floor of the cellblock and beat him repeatedly.   Other members of the death squad also participated in Walker’s beating.   LaMar then ordered Depina out of his cell.   When Depina refused, LaMar entered the cell and hit him several times before dragging him to the main floor, as he had done with Walker.   LaMar continued to beat Depina with a baseball bat, striking him several times.   Other members of LaMar’s group joined in beating Depina, who died from his injuries.

{¶ 8} When LaMar finished beating Depina, he ordered Grinnell to open a cell occupied by Bruce Vitale.   When Vitale refused to come out of the cell, LaMar hit him on the head with a shovel.   LaMar continued beating Vitale on the head and at one point knocked a tooth out of Vitale’s mouth.   Vitale tried to defend himself by crawling under the bed, but LaMar and Curry dragged him out of the cell and continued the beating, joined by other members of the death squad.   At one point, LaMar told Jones, “I didn’t bring you all in here to stand around,” when he noticed that Jones was not participating in the assault.   Vitale was still alive when the group left him but died after Frezzell and another member of LaMar’s group stabbed and beat him again.

{¶ 9} LaMar continued on to a nearby cell occupied by Thomas Taylor, another suspected snitch.   Before LaMar could order Taylor’s cell opened, a Muslim inmate named Harris intervened and told LaMar that Taylor was under Muslim protection.   LaMar angrily pushed Harris out of the way, saying, “If he [Taylor] is in there, he’s a snitch.   Fuck it.   Kill him.”   After Taylor told LaMar that he was not a snitch, LaMar agreed to spare Taylor’s life, but only if Taylor would kill Albert Staiano, who was locked in an adjacent cell.   To save his own life, Taylor agreed.   LaMar ordered Taylor’s and Staiano’s cells opened and commanded one of the other inmates to give a baseball bat to Taylor.   Staiano tried to run from his cell, but fell to the ground when Frezzell tripped him.   Taylor hit Staiano over the head several times with the baseball bat and then, after the bat broke, with a fire extinguisher.   Other death-squad members, not including LaMar, joined in the assault and stabbed Staiano repeatedly.   When the beating ended, LaMar ordered Taylor to return to his cell.   Taylor eventually pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for his role in Staiano’s death.

{¶ 10} The death squad’s next stop was a cell occupied by Michael Trocadero and four to five other inmates.   LaMar ordered Grinnell to open the cell, but Grinnell refused, saying that the Muslim leadership did not want those inmates killed.   As LaMar and his group began to leave L-6, it passed the cell of William Svette, an elderly inmate who used a walker to move himself around.   Svette, who appeared to have been beaten earlier, cursed the death squad with obscenities and racial epithets.   On LaMar’s order, Grinnell opened Svette’s cell, where LaMar and Curry beat Svette over the head with a baseball bat and a shovel.   LaMar started to leave the cell but returned to beat Svette again after noticing that Svette’s legs were moving.

{¶ 11} Svette remained alive after the death squad left his cell.   A short time later, on Grinnell’s instructions to make sure all of the victims in L-6 were dead, inmate Eric Girdy struck Svette across the head twice more with a baseball bat.   Svette continued to live after Girdy’s beating and was still alive after inmate Robert Bass, on orders from one of the Muslim inmates, dragged Svette’s body to a ramp near a prison recreation area.   Svette eventually died after yet another inmate, Freddie Frakes, beat him yet again with a baseball bat.

{¶ 12} After finishing their rampage, LaMar and the others left L-Block and joined the large contingent of inmates gathered in the recreation yard.   Many of the participants in the L-6 killings remained together and discussed what had transpired.   During this time, LaMar saw inmate Dennis Weaver in the recreation yard and told Curry, “I wish Weaver was in there.   I’d have killed him, too.”

{¶ 13} Early the following morning, law enforcement officers surrounded the approximately three hundred inmates gathered in the recreation yard and herded them to a gymnasium on the SOCF grounds, where the inmates were handcuffed and taken to various cells around the prison.   LaMar occupied a cell in K-Block with nine other inmates:  Scales, Frezzell, Weaver, William “Geno” Washington, Jeffrey Mack, Michael Childers, Ricky Rutheford, William Bowling, and John  Malveaux.   These ten inmates remained in the cell without incident for the rest of the day.

{¶ 14} The next day, however, tensions began rising in the cell.   LaMar and Scales began harassing Weaver, accusing him of being a snitch and telling him that “all snitches should be killed.”   Weaver denied being a snitch and urged his fellow cellmates to protest what he perceived as mistreatment of the inmates who were not involved in the riot.   LaMar became incensed by Weaver’s comments, yelled “shut up, snitch,” punched Weaver in the face, and relegated him to a corner of the cell.   Scales and Mack also joined in the attack on Weaver.   LaMar later ordered that Weaver, Malveaux, Bowling, and Childers be tied up.

{¶ 15} Later that day, LaMar announced to the cellmates that “I want Mr. Weaver dead.   I want that snitch dead right now.”   LaMar then accused Bowling of being a snitch and threatened to kill Bowling if Bowling did not kill Weaver.   LaMar untied Bowling, handed him some string, and watched Bowling choke Weaver.   LaMar also threatened Rutheford, who then aided Bowling in the assault by holding Weaver’s feet.   LaMar became impatient with Bowling’s progress and told Childers, “[I]f you want to live, if you ain’t no snitch, then you help kill him.”   LaMar then untied Childers, who complied with LaMar’s order by choking Weaver, using the ropes with which LaMar had tied Childers’s wrists.   When Childers began hitting and kicking Weaver, LaMar told him to “just strangle him” because LaMar wanted “to make it look like he hung hisself.”   LaMar aided Childers by stuffing toilet paper and pieces of plastic down Weaver’s throat in an effort to silence him.   Weaver eventually died while Childers was choking him.

{¶ 16} After Weaver died, LaMar instructed Bowling and Malveaux to move the body to a corner of the cell.   He also ordered them to tie a string from a cell mattress around Weaver’s neck “and hook it to the coat hook to make it look like a suicide.”   And before corrections officers removed Weaver’s body, LaMar instructed everyone in the cell to tell them that Weaver had killed himself.

{¶ 17} The grand jury indicted LaMar on nine counts of aggravated murder for his role in the deaths of Depina, Vitale, Staiano, Svette, and Weaver.   Five of the aggravated-murder counts alleged that LaMar killed each of the victims with prior calculation and design.   R.C. 2903.01(A).   The remaining counts charged LaMar with murdering Depina, Vitale, Staiano, and Svette while committing or attempting to commit kidnapping.   R.C. 2903.01(B).   In addition, the grand jury charged LaMar with four death-penalty specifications attached to the first eight counts of the indictment:  R.C. 2929.04(A)(4) (murder committed in a detention facility);  (A)(5) (prior murder conviction);  (A)(5) (murdering two or more victims);  (A)(7) (murder committed while committing or attempting to commit  kidnapping).   The ninth count, charging Weaver’s murder, alleged only three of these specifications;  it did not charge LaMar with the kidnapping specification.1

{¶ 18} At trial, LaMar testified on his own behalf and denied committing any of the five murders.   LaMar testified that he was in the recreation yard when the riot began and went back inside L-6 briefly to get his personal belongings.   LaMar explained that while inside, he spoke briefly with Allen after Grinnell had accused LaMar of trying to “get guys out the cells.”   According to LaMar, Allen did not believe Grinnell and allowed LaMar to leave the cellblock.   LaMar testified that he returned to the recreation yard and never went back into L-6 that day.   He told the jury that he stayed in the recreation yard until the early morning hours of April 12, when corrections officers and state troopers surrounded the yard and ordered the inmates into the gymnasium.   LaMar’s alibi testimony was corroborated by four inmate witnesses who each testified to having seen and talked to LaMar in the yard during the early stages of the riot.

{¶ 19} LaMar also testified to the events surrounding Weaver’s murder, which took place after officers placed the two men, along with eight others, in a holding cell in K-Block.   LaMar stated that he and Scales argued with Bowling about the distribution of food and admitted to punching Bowling in the face.   He denied, however, tying up other inmates or assaulting Weaver.   According to LaMar, Bowling tied up Childers and started punching Weaver after Weaver came to Childers’s defense.   LaMar testified that Bowling then grabbed Weaver around the neck in a “half Nelson” until Weaver lost consciousness.   Bowling then untied Childers, who also choked Weaver until Weaver died.   LaMar admitted lying to investigators about the events leading to Weaver’s death, but said that he lied because he didn’t “want nothing to do with it.”

{¶ 20} Two defense witnesses corroborated LaMar’s account of Weaver’s murder.   Inmate Cory Perkins, who was in an adjacent cell, testified that he heard Bowling call Weaver a “snitch.”   Perkins also testified that he heard someone else in the cellblock suggest that Weaver be killed.   William Washington, who was in the K-Block cell with LaMar and Weaver, also corroborated LaMar’s story by identifying Bowling and Childers as the inmates who killed Weaver.   According to Washington, LaMar did not touch Weaver, did not order anyone to hurt Weaver, and did not say anything about Weaver.   On cross-examination, however, the prosecution impeached Washington with a prior statement in which he identified LaMar as one of Weaver’s assailants.

{¶ 21} The jury returned guilty verdicts on all the charges and specifications alleged in the indictment.   Following the penalty-phase proceedings, the jury recommended the death penalty for the murders of Depina, Vitale, Svette, and  Weaver.   For Staiano’s murder, the jury found that LaMar should be sentenced to life imprisonment with parole eligibility after thirty years.   The trial court issued a sentencing opinion in which it agreed with the jury’s recommendation and sentenced LaMar to death for the murders of Depina, Vitale, Svette, and Weaver.   LaMar appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals, asserting nineteen assignments of error.   The court of appeals overruled each of the assignments and affirmed the convictions and death sentence.   The cause is now before this court upon an appeal as of right.

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