URBANA, Ohio (AP) — A jail inmate who beat a child-rape suspect who died a few days later was sentenced on Wednesday to five years in prison.
Defendant Zachary Butler said he was forced to attack victim David Piersol by other inmates who threatened to stab Butler with sharpened pencils if he didn't carry out the assault as the new kid on the jail block.
He said he was told he had to "earn his tray," referring to jail food trays.
Butler also said other inmates physically attacked Piersol later in a jail bathroom, an allegation rejected by Champaign County Judge Nick Selvaggio for lack of evidence.
"You don't know with any certainty that other inmates were the ones that caused the blows to his head, do you?" the judge asked Butler.
"No, Sir," Butler said.
Prosecutor Kevin Talebi also said there was no evidence of such an attack, with evidence showing Butler struck Piersol "several times" in the head with his knee.
"What's clear is this defendant is the one who caused the death," Talebi said.
But the judge agreed that Butler acted under "strong provocation" because of the inmate threats against him.
Butler also was fined $1,500 and ordered to serve three years of probation after prison.
Butler said he was told to assault Piersol after other inmates harassed Piersol for several minutes, calling him a "child molester" who should be beaten up.
Defense attorney Chris Bucci argued for a halfway house-type sentence, saying Butler was extremely drunk at the time, was egged on and feared for his life.
A report by the Champaign County Sheriff's Office says Piersol was beaten on April 5 at Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg and died a few days later. Piersol, of Marysville, was in jail after being charged with raping a young girl. Butler was in the jail on a drunken-driving charge.
Butler, 24, of Richwood, pleaded guilty last month to one count of reckless homicide and one count of tampering with evidence. The tampering charge involves an accusation that Butler traded blood-stained pants with another inmate.
Butler took responsibility for the assault on Piersol, saying he'd learned that "life is fragile," and he apologized to Piersol's family.
"I made bad decisions," he said. "I knew what I was doing."
The judge said Butler had shown remorse and was one of the few offenders he'd seen directly address a victim's family when apologizing.
But the judge said he couldn't overlook the seriousness of Butler's assault on Piersol, the fact it happened in a jail and the fact Butler didn't seek help for the victim afterward.
Piersol's sister, Gery Martin, told the judge the family hoped jail would help her brother overcome his struggles, including alcoholism.
She told Butler: "Our family is holding you accountable."
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.