Ex-inmate testifies in retrial of riot leader

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 6, 2003

CINCINNATI (AP) -Prosecutors say they know some of what went on during a deadly prison riot -and who killed a guard -because they have tape recordings of some conversations among inmates who took over the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility 10 years ago.

James Were, 46, of Toledo, was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to die for the aggravated murder of Robert Vallandingham during the April 1993 riot at the maximum-security prison in Lucasville. Nine inmates also died.

But the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last year that Were must be retried because he had not been given a hearing on whether he was mentally competent to stand trial. A judge ruled in January that Were was competent.

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Were's attorneys say there is no physical evidence he killed the guard.

On Monday, prosecutors began playing audiotapes they said were recorded from listening devices placed in tunnels underneath the prison. Because the audio quality is poor, jurors were given transcripts of the tapes so they could follow along.

Prosecutors have said that Were's voice can be heard on the tapes with other riot leaders, and a former inmate testified that Were was among a group that took Vallandingham prisoner.

Steve Macko said he saw Were and four or five other inmates use a desk to break down the door to the restroom where Vallandingham had sought safety.

Macko said the inmates handcuffed the guard, took him into a corridor and then to a cell around the corner.

"That's the last time I saw him," Macko said.

Dr. Patrick Fardal, a forensic pathologist with the Franklin County coroner's office, said Vallandingham died of ligature strangulation, which means that some type of cord or rope was used.

Macko, who had been serving a sentence for murder at the time of the riot, said he was trying to get to the prison yard when he saw Vallandingham taken away.

"I just wanted to get out of there, and I didn't want to have anything to do with the riot," said Macko, who would have been up for parole soon and didn't want to endanger that.