Published: Thursday, April 26, 2007
Civil rights attorney Staughton Lynd co-wrote
By GUY D'ASTOLFO
YOUNGSTOWN In 1993, an inmate uprising at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville gripped the state and the nation.
For 11 days, 407 inmates laid siege to what was then the state's maximum-security prison.
When it was over, nine inmates and one prison guard Officer Robert Vallandingham were dead. In the ensuing trial, five rioters who have come to be known as the Lucasville 5 were found guilty of Vallandingham's murder and sentenced to death.
But did they do it?
Staughton Lynd, the renowned civil rights attorney and resident of Niles, says no. In a play that he has co-written, "Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising," Lynd makes the case that the inmates were convicted solely on the basis of untrue testimony from other rioting inmates, and no physical evidence.
"Lucasville" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1105 Elm St.
Gary Anderson, an actor best known for portraying the life of Scopes Trial attorney Clarence Darrow, co-wrote "Lucasville" and plays the part of an officer who interrogated a key witness. The cast is made up of Youngstown-area residents.
Lynd and his wife, Alice, have been involved in the Lucasville case since 1996. His book "Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising" was published in 2004.
"Unlike most defense attorneys, who struggle with limited time and resources, I was in a position to read the transcripts and interviews with inmates who never testified," said the semiretired Lynd.
"As a historian and a lawyer, I wrote an account that has stood up pretty well to criticism."
Unfortunately, Lynd's scholarly book didn't attract much attention in Ohio. He said he hopes that will change with the dramatization, which will be presented in seven other cities in the state.
How it started
A chance meeting with actor Anderson set the wheels in motion.
"Last June, Anderson came to Youngstown to perform his one-man play," said Lynd. "I gave him a copy of my book and by the time he left town he was already considering turning it into a major presentation."
A few months later, Lynd was invited to give a talk after presentations of the play "The Exonerated" at the Oakland Center for the Arts. He got to know the cast and had no trouble enlisting them for "Lucasville."
"With the exception of one person, every member of 'The Exonerated' is in 'Lucasville,'" said Lynd, who has a cameo performance as a judge.
Two former Lucasville inmates are also in the play, which is being underwritten by a grant from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The cast includes former inmates Kunta Kenyatta and Lessley Harmon (playing the roles of Keith LaMar and James Were, respectively); and local actors Clyde Homes (Siddique Abdullah Hasan), Sam Perry (George Skatzes) and Chris Fidram (Jason Robb).
Interestingly, four of the Lucasville 5 are now housed in the Ohio State Penitentiary on Youngstown's East Side. The fifth (Skatzes) has been transferred to Mansfield.
Lynd also sheds light on the oppressive conditions in the prison that led to the riot. "The judge didn't want to hear why the riot started, even though evidence of provocation is typically admitted in trials for violent crimes," he said.
In the play, sound effects and slides are used to portray the riot, but there is no set.
The play is stirring up memories of the riot and angering those who disagree with its message.
Mark Piepmeier, the prosecutor who oversaw the Lucasville cases, said he is outraged by "Lucasville." He said the inmates' testimonies were corroborated by Ohio State Highway Patrol investigators and by the inmates' own actions. For example, Skatzes, who served as a prison negotiator, was on tape making demands and saying that someone would die if the inmates weren't satisfied.
Piepmeier said he had little choice but to use inmates as witnesses, as they were the only people there. The guards taken hostage were blindfolded.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.