The state's case was crippled by the loss of the mob gunman's prior courtroom testimony.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A Campbell man accused in the 1996 killing of Boardman businessman Larry Sisman pleaded guilty Wednesday, but not to the murder charges.
Mark A. Batcho, 35, pleaded guilty to one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, for which he faces a mandatory 10-year prison term.
He will be sentenced Jan. 15 in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court by visiting Judge Stephen A. Yarbrough.
The plea was taken in Toledo to accommodate Judge Yarbrough, who resides in Lucas County, a court spokeswoman said.
As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors dropped charges of aggravated murder, murder and aggravated robbery. Batcho was scheduled for trial on the charges Jan. 24.
The organized crime unit of the Ohio attorney general's office prosecuted the case.
Ruling: AG spokesman Bret Crow said a ruling by Judge Yarbrough in March 2001 preventing prosecutors from using Batcho's federal court testimony against him at trial was the main reason for dropping the murder and robbery charges.
Prosecutors had based much of their case on testimony Batcho gave in other trials involving local mob figures.
He admitted during that testimony that he'd killed Sisman, but Judge Yarbrough ruled that prosecutors could not use that information against him.
Sisman, 66, was a partner in Palace In the Pines, a Coitsville bar.
As part of an agreement in the mob cases, authorities promised that statements Batcho made to law enforcement officials would not be used against him in the Sisman murder.
Prosecutors honored that agreement but wanted to use Batcho's courtroom testimony from the trial of convicted mob figure Bernie Altshuler, which they said was fair game because it was outside the scope of his voluntary statements.
Defense attorney Mark A. Stanton of Cleveland objected, saying the tactic violated the spirit of Batcho's agreement. Judge Yarbrough agreed and banned use of the testimony.
"That was the kicker," Crow said. "That was the biggest reason for dropping the murder charges."
Stanton could not be reached to comment.
Crow said there were other factors in the state's decision to make the plea agreement. One witness has died and others are reluctant to testify because of the mob ties to the case, he said.
Doing time: Batcho is serving an 18-year prison sentence for trying to kill Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains in December 1996, a week before Gains took office, and for shooting Atty. Gary Van Brocklin in his downtown law office. Batcho has testified that the Gains and Van Brocklin shootings were ordered by local mob bosses.
Gains was shot because he'd rebuffed the mob's attempts to bribe and control him, while Van Brocklin was shot in the leg so a court case could be delayed, Batcho said.