Inmate challenges convictions in 5 prison slayings

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2014 7:37 PM
Inmate challenges convictions in 5 prison slayings

CINCINNATI (AP) — An inmate seeking to have his convictions and death sentence for the slayings of fellow inmates during the 1993 Ohio prison riot overturned says he was denied a fair trial.

Inmate Keith LaMar, 45, was convicted of aggravated murder in 1995 in the deaths of five inmates during the 1993 riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution in Lucasville. The 11-day riot ended in the deaths of nine inmates and a prison guard.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday in LaMar's latest attempt to overturn his convictions.

LaMar's attorney told the judges that trial prosecutors violated his client's constitutional rights by withholding evidence from the defense. Attorney David Doughten said the prosecution didn't provide transcripts and summaries from inmates who witnessed the slayings.

The prosecution eventually provided a list of 43 names, but didn't provide a way for the defense to match any favorable statements with the inmates who made them, Doughten said.

"This case was based entirely on witness testimony," he said.

When asked by a judge why trial prosecutors would have withheld such information, the attorney representing the state at Tuesday's hearing said: "The rationale at the time was that it was for inmates' security."

Ohio Assistant Attorney General Stephen Maher also said the defense was provided with time and fully funded investigative services for interviewing inmates to verify the identity of those making the statements.

Maher focused mostly on the state's contention that LaMar's latest attempt in a lower court seeking to overturn his convictions was not filed in a timely manner under the statute of limitations.

LaMar supporters gathered at a downtown church and spoke with him by speaker phone from the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown after the hearing. When an Associated Press reporter called a group member to double check a detail for the story, the reporter also was able to talk to LaMar.

LaMar said he was cautiously optimistic about his chances for a new trial.

"If there is any justice, I should receive a new trial," he said. "I try not to be too optimistic or too pessimistic and just try to keep my balance."

About 40 of his supporters rallied downtown prior to attending the hearing, where they were joined by about 50 more people.

Denis O'Hearn, of Binghamton, New York, said he visits LaMar in prison.

"I am here because I believe in his innocence," O'Hearn said.

The judges did not say when they would rule.