State v. Skatzes, 2004 Ohio 6391 (OH 12/8/2004), Case No. 2003-0487.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Citation2004 Ohio 6391,___ Ohio St.3d ___
Docket NumberCase No. 2003-0487.
PartiesThe State of Ohio, Appellee, v. Skatzes, Appellant.
Decision Date08 December 2004

APPEAL from the Court of Appeals for Montgomery County, No. 15848.

Mark E. Piepmeier, Special Prosecuting Attorney, and William E. Breyer, Assistant Special Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

S. Adele Shank and Gary W. Crim, for appellant.


{¶1} On the afternoon of April 11, 1993, inmates at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility ("SOCF") at Lucasville rioted and took control of L Section, one of three main prison cell blocks. On or about April 12, inmates killed inmate Earl Elder. On April 15, inmates killed Robert Vallandingham, one of eight corrections officers taken hostage during the riot. On April 21, while inmates were surrendering and releasing the remaining hostages, inmates killed inmate David Sommers. Defendant-appellant, George Skatzes, was found guilty as one of the inmates responsible for the murders of Elder, Vallandingham, and Sommers and was sentenced to death.

{¶2} Sometime before April 11, 1993, the Ohio Department of Health mandated that all prison inmates in Ohio's prison system be tested for tuberculosis. The test required an injection. The Muslim inmates at SOCF, led by Carlos "Hasan" Sanders, a leader of the Muslims at SOCF, objected to that form of testing on religious grounds. Word filtered down to the Muslims that a lockdown of SOCF was going to take place on Monday, the day after Easter Sunday, April 12, 1993, to facilitate the tuberculosis testing.

{¶3} On the evening before the riot, April 10, high-ranking members of the Aryan Brotherhood, including Jason Robb, Dewey Bocook, and Freddie Snyder, and the Muslims, including Sanders and James Were, met in the L block gym. Upon seeing this, inmate Robert Brookover knew "there was something going on." Robb told fellow Aryan Brotherhood member Roger Snodgrass to "be on our toes tomorrow."

{¶4} On the afternoon of April 11, inmates took control of the entire L section of the prison, including cell blocks 1 through 8. Prison authorities attempted to end the takeover by negotiating over the phone with representatives of the three dominant gangs. The gangs included the Muslims, led by Sanders, who controlled L6; the Aryans, led by Jason Robb and Skatzes, controlled L2; and the Black Gangster Disciples, led by Anthony Lavelle, controlled L1. Inmates controlled access to and from any area of L block.

{¶5} Several corrections officers ("C.O.s"), including Robert Vallandingham, who was working in L1 that day, were taken hostage. As the riot unfolded in its early stages, Vallandingham locked himself in the corrections officers' L1 restroom. Inmates were able to batter open the restroom door and take him hostage. Other inmates saw Sanders and Were escort Vallandingham to L6. Other guards taken hostage were eventually held in L6 as well, except for C.O.s Darrold Clark and Jeff Ratcliff, who were confined for most of the riot in L2.

{¶6} During the initial stages of the riot, inmates stormed to the back stairwell of L2 where C.O. Ratcliff and inmate Earl Elder had locked themselves. Using a weight bar, inmates punched holes in the wall next to the L2 stairwell door. Ratcliff came out of the stairwell and was beaten. Inmates then brought Elder out of the stairwell and began beating him with baseball bats and stabbing him with shanks. Robb was heard telling Elder, "You want to be police, we will show you what it is to be police." Elder was then locked in a cell in L6.

{¶7} Later that night, Lucky Roper, a Muslim inmate, met with Skatzes in the gym. Skatzes then went to Snodgrass and told him, "We got to go to L6." At L6, Skatzes told Snodgrass: "I want you to take this guy out." Then Skatzes, Roper, and Snodgrass went to the cell where Elder was being held and Skatzes told Snodgrass, "Go ahead and take care of your business, son." Snodgrass went into the cell and stabbed Elder numerous times. When Snodgrass came out of the cell, Skatzes put his arm around him and said, "You did a good job, brother, I am proud of you." Elder's body was placed in the recreation yard at 10:15 the next morning. He died from multiple stab wounds in his chest and head, as well as skull fractures.

{¶8} On April 12, prison authorities turned off the electricity and water in L block. Skatzes shouted from a window with a bullhorn, demanding that the authorities turn the power back on. He also had C.O.-hostage Ratcliff identify himself using the bullhorn and demand that power be restored inside L block.

{¶9} Within two or three days after the takeover, FBI technicians had placed microphones in the tunnels underneath L block to record inmate conversations. By the end of the riot, 591 "tunnel tapes" had been recorded.

{¶10} The inmate leaders negotiated over the phone with prison authorities. Inmate David Sommers controlled the phones and tape-recorded the inmate leaders during their negotiations with prison authorities. During the first half of the riot, Skatzes was one of the lead inmate negotiators. He told the prison negotiators to stop tear-gassing K block, which they were doing to quell a disturbance, "or you are going to cost an officer's life." As he continued to argue with authorities over the phone, Skatzes declared, "[Y]ou just cost an officer's life." At that time, however, the inmates did not kill a guard.

{¶11} At another time during the siege, Skatzes and Robb ordered a crew of inmates to make a hole in a back wall of L7. They planned to kill a C.O. and dangle his body out of the back of L7 where it could be seen from the front of the SOCF by members of the media. In addition, Skatzes instructed inmates guarding the C.O.-hostages to kill them if authorities came into L block.

{¶12} On April 14, the inmate leaders met in L2 to discuss a solution to the stalemate on their demands. In addition to the gang leaders, including Skatzes, other inmates within the three gangs also attended the meeting. According to Lavelle, a vote was taken to kill a guard if their demands were not met. "No one spoke against doing it, so it was agreed it would happen."

{¶13} Later that evening on April 14, inmate Miles Hogan overheard a conversation between Skatzes, Sanders, and inmate Stanley Cummings. They talked about the fact that someone who was supposed to kill a C.O. had backed out. Skatzes blurted out: "Fuck the CO, I will kill the CO or fuckin' COs."

{¶14} Another inmate leader meeting took place on the morning of April 15. At that time, Skatzes got on the phone and demanded that prison authorities restore water and power within L block or "there would be a guaranteed murder. Do your thing. 10:30 or a dead man's out there." He said if the water and power were not turned back on by 10:30, "the hardliners were going to step in and take over." At the inmate meeting of leaders, a vote was taken to kill a C.O., and a member from each inmate gang was chosen to participate in the killing. According to witnesses at the meeting, Skatzes agreed with the decision to kill a C.O {¶15} The deadline set by Skatzes passed without the water or power being restored. Officer Vallandingham was killed in L6 by Muslim inmates. Several masked inmates carried Vallandingham's body out of L6 and down the L corridor to the gym. Skatzes walked behind those who carried the body. At 11:10 a.m., Vallandingham's body was placed in the recreation yard. The coroner later concluded that Vallandingham had died by ligature strangulation.

{¶16} Negotiations resumed that afternoon, and the inmate leaders agreed to release a C.O. in exchange for allowing Skatzes to make a live radio broadcast to air the concerns and demands of the inmates. The broadcast took place that evening at 7:30 p.m. in the recreation yard. After the broadcast, C.O. Darrold Clark was released. Although he had a transcript, Skatzes's performance was described as "rambling." Many inmates were not pleased, and Sanders told Robb that he wanted him to make all future decisions on behalf of the Aryans. Skatzes's role as an inmate negotiator diminished thereafter.

{¶17} The following day, April 16, prison officials agreed to allow inmate Cummings to broadcast inmate grievances on television, in exchange for the release of another C.O. At 1:35 p.m., C.O. Tony Demons was released while Cummings delivered his live television address.

{¶18} The takeover continued because Sanders and Robb reportedly wanted to break the record for the longest prison takeover in the United States. Finally, on April 20 and 21, Sanders, Robb and Lavelle met with attorney Niki Schwartz to discuss ending the takeover. They reached an agreement, and the inmates began to surrender on April 21.

{¶19} Meanwhile, during a meeting in L2 between Robb, Lavelle, and Sanders, the gang leaders decided that inmate David Sommers, who controlled the phones and ran the inmates' tape player throughout the negotiations "had to die, he knew too much." Sommers had a reputation as a snitch before the riot. Robert Brookover also had a reputation as a snitch, but he was given a choice: kill someone or be killed. Brookover asked Skatzes if he was going to be killed. Skatzes replied, "[J]ust take care of business, be cool."

{¶20} The surrender was held up for a period of time because, as Skatzes, Robb, Sanders, and Cummings told Lavelle, they had "some things we have to take care of." An inmate called "Kinky" gave Brookover baker's clothes (kitchen whites, which Brookover put on), a shank, and an extension cord. Skatzes, Snodgrass, and Bocook also changed into different clothes. When Robb arrived, the group went to L7 across the corridor from L2. Bocook instructed Brookover to retrieve baseball bats out of a guitar case in the back of L7. When they arrived in L7, no one was there. Bocook screamed, "Where's that bitch Sommers at." Robb left to get Sommers from L2 and,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3 cases
  • Gatliff v. Tibbals
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • 10 décembre 2015
    ...Evid.R. 403 prohibits." State v. Martin, 12th Dist. No. CA2007-01-022, 2007 Ohio 7073, ¶ 16, citing State v. Skatzes, 104 Ohio St.3d 195, 2004 Ohio 6391, ¶ 107, 819 N.E.2d 215. Unfairly prejudicial evidence is that which might result in an improper basis for a jury decision. State v. Bowman......
  • Clements v. Timmerman-Cooper
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • 25 mai 2012
    ...have had regarding the charges pending against him was eliminated by the bill of particulars. 1 See State v. Skatzes, 104 Ohio St.3d 195, 2004 Ohio 6391, P27, 819 N.E.2d 215. Therefore, because counts two and three of the indictment were not defective,Page 6appellant's second argument is ov......
  • State v. Tapscott
    • United States
    • Ohio Court of Appeals
    • 14 septembre 2012
    ...criminal defendant, and as the rule speaks only to prejudice that is unfair, there is a preference for admissibility. See State v. Skatzes, 104 Ohio St.3d 195, 2004-Ohio-6391, 819 N.E.2d 215, ¶ 107;State v. Frazier, 73 Ohio St.3d 323, 333, 652 N.E.2d 1000 (1995). The issues were straightfor......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT